In August 1996, Kevin McCarthy invited me to accompany him on an Amtrak ride from Los Angeles to San Diego. It was a party train, in more ways than one: Thirty people from Kern County, happily sequestered in the far-rear car, were heading south for the Republican National Convention. McCarthy knew I had a responsibility to report what I'd see but he saved me a seat anyway.

McCarthy was the most popular guy on the train, and not because people felt the need to schmooze him. He was still four years away from holding his first elective office as a Kern Community College District trustee; at this time he was just an engaging 31-year-old aide to Rep. Bill Thomas. But he laughed a lot, made others feel good about themselves and people seemed drawn to him.

The nomination of Bob Dole and Jack Kemp was a foregone conclusion, so McCarthy and the local Republican delegation had relatively little to do that week in San Diego: Mostly just network, celebrate and compare McCarthy's perfect JFK hair to that of Kemp, Dole's vice presidential nominee.

Two days into the convention, McCarthy invited me to have lunch with his boss. He and I shared a cab to Old Town San Diego, a historic section of the city lined with restaurants and T-shirt shops just north of Mission Hills.

We walked into a place called Casa de Reyes and there, at a big, round table near the back, was Rep. William M. Thomas, chairman of the House Committee on Administration and the future chairman, five years later, of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

As we waited for our Mexican platters to arrive I must have said something about ideology, because Bill Thomas the Bakersfield College political science professor suddenly emerged. Thomas took out a pen and, drawing on a white paper placemat, illustrated how my horizontal-line, two-dimensional understanding of liberal vs. conservative economics was all wrong. Ideology, he said, is like a wheel: Go too far to the extreme right and you have essentially joined the extreme left, and vice versa. And he explained why. I was fascinated.

So was McCarthy, even though he had probably heard all of it from the congressman before. He was so animated in his enthusiasm he practically wiggled out of his chair.

Kevin, I thought, was born to this. He sat at the right hand of the smartest man in Washington, had a feel for people, and relished the idea of making policy and winning elections.

So it was no shock to me or anyone else when, in a rout, he was elected to the California State Assembly, where he served from 2002 to 2006, the last two years of that time as minority leader. When Thomas retired from the House in 2006, McCarthy ran to succeed him and again won easily. By 2014, he was the House majority leader. 

But McCarthy was never the policy guy his mentor was. He was the caucus builder, the vote-counter, the fundraiser, the fund dispenser and one of the party's chief spokesmen.

His endorsement meant something. And when Donald Trump, almost out of nowhere, won the 2016 Republican nomination for president, McCarthy — despite having joked to colleagues earlier that year that, "swear to God," Vladimir Putin had Trump on his payroll — jumped aboard the Orange Bluster Special.

The connection has not served him well. Trump's demand for loyalty — not just of McCarthy, but of everyone in his orbit — has compelled the Bakersfield native to at times speak nonsense.

Two examples among many, one six weeks into Trump's presidency, the other just last Sunday.

In March 2017, in an appearance on MSNBC, McCarthy declared, “I think, (for) the trust of the American people," Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from the just-developing Russia inquiry.

Two hours later, perhaps after taking an important phone call, McCarthy appeared on Fox News to claim he’d suggested no such thing. “It’s amazing how people spin things so quickly,” he said. Indeed it is.

But McCarthy's Sept. 29 interview with Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes" easily topped the recusal flip-flop in terms of smoldering disasters.

McCarthy accused Pelley of inserting a consequential "though" into the transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, then seemed surprised to learn he was mistaken. Then, asked about Trump's alleged quid pro quo with Ukraine, he filibustered shamelessly. When Pelley noted that McCarthy's "nothing to see here" defense hewed closely to the White House's Ukraine talking points, which had been inadvertently shared with Democrats and thus the world, McCarthy replied: "I've never seen one talking point from the White House."

He had, in fact, helped write them. McCarthy was among the few GOP legislators invited to "get an early look at the readout and coordinate their talking points" at a White House meeting prior to the release of the transcript, according to The New York Times and Politico. All of which Pelley helpfully pointed out.

McCarthy's loyalty to Trump won't cost him in Bakersfield, where the Democratic Party knows better than to bother funding a 23rd Congressional District opponent, but it may well cost him in an area that many politicians do and should care about: their legacies. McCarthy's conscious decision to attach his political fortunes to Trump's are the chief reason he should worry about that.

This will never happen, but I am compelled to suggest it anyway: It is well past time for McCarthy to cautiously extricate himself from the circle of support around this president, toward whom I believe history will not be kind. I understand attempting such a maneuver is fraught with challenge, but lingering near this looming implosion will be further detrimental to McCarthy's career and, yes, his legacy.

What Trump has done, first soliciting Ukraine, then China, to produce incriminating or damaging evidence on a likely 2020 opponent is, according to Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, patently illegal.

But what kind of good Republican calls out his own president for soliciting political help from a foreign government? Good Republicans like Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who on Thursday told the Omaha World-Herald: “Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth. If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps.”

If other Republicans can back away from this mess without damaging their credentials, McCarthy can, too.

He need not be loud about it. No press releases, no speeches. Silence will suffice, for now, while the Democrats' impeachment inquiry, and migrating national polls, play out. But McCarthy ought to leave himself a place to pivot.

I get it: For Trump's closest ally in the House to abandon him now seems politically implausible. My point, that history judges harshly, may produce eye rolls, snark and little else. McCarthy is more likely to respond to this: His top priority as minority leader is to become majority leader. Restoring some stability at the top of the ticket might be his best strategy.

From my vantage point, the Republican bench looks every bit as strong as the Democrats' — and I'm not referring to Mark Sanford or any of the handful of declared intraparty challengers. Several — Mitt Romney, anyone? Marco Rubio? John Kasich? — might stand a better chance than any current option among the Democrats, whose three front-runners are in their 70s — late 70s in two cases — and whose fresher faces may be too far left for Middle America's tastes.

The Republicans may yet pluck victory from this mounting disaster, but it will take some hard decisions.

For starters, Kevin McCarthy needs to think about catching a different train.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(61) comments

BakoMark

Yawn...

Yellowhammer

McCarthy is doing a fine job taking the ignorant, uneducated, Trump sycophant views to Washington. Bakersfield does a good enough job embarrassing itself in the eyes of the Country without his help.

Debra Matheney

Today Trump sided with Turkey against the Kurds, US allies known for fighting our enemies, and what has McCarthy said? Nothing as far as I can see. If he does comment, it will be to support his buddy, Trump, who can say and do no wrong. He is an embarrassment to Kern, just like our Sheriff and DA's idea of jailing homeless addicts.

McCarthy is not the best or the brightest as a Republican strategist called him, but he as a bully pulpit he could use and maybe save the lives of some Kurds by challenging Trump's latest bad idea. At this rate we will have no allies, but Trump will have Kevin.

Veritas

I have really enjoyed reading the comments on this article. It is entertaining to watch the left and right go at each other. The sad part of this whole thing is the ones who try to say “just do the right thing” like their side does or would. I especially laugh at those who say grow a pair and be truthful and moral. You are naive if you think that will ever happen with any politician that is a Democrat or Republican. We have had nothing but cr@p in the White House for 30 years now. From Clinton (who lied to us on national TV about his affair(s)), to W (who was simply clueless), to Obama (who didn’t even care about this Country), to Trump (who can’t help but act a fool 24/7), they all lied and were immoral in one major way or another. Unfortunately, there is nobody worth a cr@p to take his place. Biden, Warren, or Sanders? Please, don’t make me laugh. And on the Republican side, there is not anyone that is any better. I wish I could say there is someone half way decent that we could rally behind, but I can’t. The Donkeys and the Elephants will put up another buffoon, one of which will get elected and the carousel will continue to turn.

REMUDA

BTW . . . 2020 IS OU(R)S . . . ! (bump bump . . . stick it)

REMUDA

Golly Gee . . . just saw my earlier comment . . . so guess I don't need to say:



TMI (toggle, joggle . . . fans & foes alike). . .again, Bobby (even though sometimes you get IT 'Right' . . . but not yet . . .not now . . . not here . . . !)

Stephen

Character matters as do the facts. That so many have been so willing to toss both under the bus to support the Liar in Chief is, for me, frustrating. And, no, I don't see the excuse for supporting him I usually hear; "But look at all the good he's done" as they attribute things to Trump he had little to nothing to do with as the "good" he's accomplished.


What I see is a shallow person with no moral anchor thrashing about making poorly considered emotionally motivated decisions that, under the constitution and the law, fall apart as they should.


How anyone can be so enamored with this buffoon that they, in tossing their moral principles aside, can support him, often with the excuse that he's not Hillary is a mystery. Facts matter and if the facts don't support our ideological world view, then we should change our ideological world view! Not, as most Republicans are doing now, circulating and supporting "alternative facts" or in a more accurate word, lies. The latest significant lies being those related to the president's claims about the Bidens and his requests for help to discredit his political opponents from foreigners and dictators.


Republicans, particularly Minority House Leader Kevin "My Kevin" McCarthy need to stand up, grow a pair, and support truth and morality. If they won't do that, then they richly deserve to be relegated to history's trash pile.

GaryJohns

Stick to country music and honky tonk bars, Bobby. Something you actually know too much about....

culinaryroost

Great article, Robert. I appreciate the "call it like I see" it approach. History will see Trump and his friend with immaculate 20/20 vision. Kevin's legacy will prove that.

nc2aref

Biden is going to beat Trump like a drum!!



#impeachmentparty

GaryJohns

Joe Biden said he’s looking forward to his next debate against Walter Mondale….

carolair

Well done Robert Price!!!

carolair

History will not be kind to the Republicans who sat on their hands while Trump rampaged around severely damaging our country. McCarthy has made a serious mistake hitching himself to this president. He will sink with Trump. Half the time he doesn't even make sense when he talks. His recent interview with Pelly was painful to watch. Yeah he is perfect for Kern County and more is the pity.

2carpoor

Thank you for another statement of facts. You have a way with words without being rude. I enjoy your candor and ability to withstand the barbs of those who disagree.

GaryJohns

You wouldn’t know facts if they sat on your face….

Moardeeb

You have courage Mr. Price. Something Republicans seem to lack.

Vico17

We have plenty of balls. We simply find it pointless and tiresome dealing with liberal with TDS. Case in point: your response in 3,2,1: more garbage and fabricate lies meant to smear and discredit. What's the point dealing with loons? It gets old.

Moardeeb

McCarthy is perfect for Bakersfield. I heard him described a couple of days ago as "never our best or brightest." That cringable moment on 60 minutes proved that true.



I've decided Republicans truly don't care about the country anymore. I used to think they were dumb or under-educated, "I love the under-educated" Trump said, remember?



No, they are just willing to sell out our founding Father's ideals to keep this fool and their policies afloat. What a sad state of affairs. Yeah, Mc Carthy is perfect for Bakersfield.

Public Servant

Am embarrassed he represents Kern. It’s like he is under a brain control drug. He makes no sense when he talks and his only objective is to protect dump trump. He is going to take him down with him and it’s so sad. Why do we allow this?

CLUD

More Liberal Diarrhea out of your mouth Robert! Why don’t you move to SF where you belong? Another pathetic, one sided article from your skeleton lined closet! 🤡🤡🤡

dawnfairy

Form thoughts, not bumperstickers

Copper

He belongs right here with the other decent moral and law abiding cares about our democracy citizens

jayinbaker

It’s true, “birds of a feather flock together.” When you have the most dishonest, immoral, unethical, racist, sexist, bigoted and habitual lying President we ever had, (and there are a dozen other despicable traits not mentioned) it is normal for the same type of people to be his base.



Trump is not only the leader of our country, but the leader of these classes of people. McCarthy and the majority of the current Republican spineless legislatures are nothing but the same kind of birds. And, this is coming from a person who was once a devout member of the old traditional Republican Party most of his life. Shame on McCarthy and shame on the citizens of his district who sold their souls to such a deployable member of society.

jayinbaker

It’s true, “birds of a feather flock together.” When you have the most dishonest, immoral, unethical, racist, sexist, bigoted and habitual lying President we ever had, (and there are a dozen other despicable traits not mentioned) it is normal for the same type of people to be his base.



Trump is not only the leader of our country, but the leader of these classes of people. McCarthy and the majority of the current Republican spineless legislatures are nothing but the same kind of birds. And, this is coming from a person who was once a devout member of the old traditional Republic Party most of his life. Shame on McCarthy and shame on the citizens of his district who sold their soles to such a deployable member of society.

JR

I'm sure childish name-calling and illiterate comments like those exhibited here in support of Donald Trump have always been part of the political scene to some extent, but I'll bet it has increased exponentially with his election. Robert Price's article was fair and lacked any biases, just facts and his own observations. Yet, the crazy Trump supporters still reacted with a rabid attitude and adolescent name-calling. They remind me of the zombies in "Night of the Living Dead", searchin' for some brains.

Susan S

McCarthy is blinded by something, and I’d like to know what.

Tom Joad

My friend's daughter met Kevin a few years back and he asked her what school she was attending. When she said "Clemson," McCarthy replied "Never heard of it." True story.

REMUDA

never heard of it . . .

Vico17

Nothing worse that the liberal opinion of Canadians, unless Bob is click baiting again, as mandated by his boss. What a waste.

Churchillis1

Obama’s administration used the Intelligence community to spy on the political campaign of Donald Trump. THAT is something I won’t forget.

Copper

Fake news

Moardeeb

Obama Obama Obama. Hillary Hillary Hillary!!! Mommie!!!!

Finis

Kevin McCarthy is a disgrace and an embarrassment to his constituents. When he looks like a fool on national TV, America wonders what kind of idiots voted for him. When the President is televised nationwide while making insulting comments about McCarthy (resembles a cow and has a "political face") and late night comedians mock him, America laughs at the hicks who he represents. Why do the editors at the Bakersfield Californian attack McCarthy in their commentary, but endorse him in an election?

Mike Hunt

McCarthy is doing exactly what he should be. I will be voting for Trump again . More butt hurt-ness from Price and the newspaper that almost doesn’t exist . MAGA !

Copper

Right doing what he should be doing and lying on national t v to cover for the crook of a presifemt

ReefRanger

There is a reason why "late night comedians" are on late at night. No one but the "dead" watch them.

Boogerface Nutter

One thing Bill Thomas had that McCarthy does not. Thomas had no qualms about meeting with people from the other political camp including our Brotherhood of Locomotive engineers legislative representative when we had an issue we hoped he would back.

Thomas would listen attentively and explain why he would not back us but at least he met and listened.

McCarthy won't even entertain the idea of meeting with a political opponenet.

I too had great hopes for him. My good friend, now a VP of a labor union, called me everything but a child of God when I expressed that opinion. Sadly, I admit he was correct.

Sticking with the increasingly nutty president is making McCarthy look nearly as nutty.

I agree. Time to get on another train.

PedoHater

How does McClown keep his job? Statistics like off the charts Unemployment rate, murder rate, homelessness, trash and graffiti everywhere, low college graduation rates, worst air pollution in the country, etc...McClown has done nothing for his district except kiss trumps behind

RedRover

Catch a different train Bobby? Don't think so. Politics is war Bobby. Republicans have been engaged in trench warfare against the Democrats from the moment President Trump was elected. They know when President Trump says he's going to "take that hill" forces of entrenched politicians, bureaucrats, and staffers foresee their annihilation and stealthily use our nation's intelligence network to take this President down by any means. So Bobby, McCarthy doesn't have to like the man in the trench fighting this fight along side him; he's just glad the Republican party's back is covered by a proven fighter, and winner! McCarthy is looking forward to riding the train he's on through 2024 and beyond. Next station, 2020!

Boogerface Nutter

The intelligence forces in our country didn't mount a partisan war against Trump. The president immediately showed a love for Putin and would not say a word against him. He was suspected of possibly being a shill for the Russian leader.

Ag

Price looks through his newspapers deceptive glasses. Trump is whom the swamp creatures are afraid of and they will all be exposed .

Copper

Trump scared of the swamp creatures and replaced them with his swamp demons

ReefRanger

You havent done a lot of foreign policy work have you? When you're trying to get something from a foreign political leader, the last thing you want to do is anger them or calling them names. You need to stop drinking the MSM koolaid and try critical OBJECTIVE thinking for a change.

Steelerman

It's quite obvious that you are a foreign policy expert by your keen insight into ow foreign policy works. When you say "the last thing you want to do is anger them or calling them names." Do you mean names like "Rocket Man" (North Korea), "Dopey Prince" (Saudi Arabia), "Cuban puppet" (Venezuela),or "My Favorite Dictator" (Egypt)? Oh, I forgot, those are Trump's descriptions of foreign leaders he is trying not to anger. It seems that the Faux-News laced Kool-Aid you are so fond of drinking by the gallon has destroyed that few neurons left in that cavern you call a skull.

mrdwm1

A well written column maybe, but who are people supposed to support? Far-left flakes who essentially support the dissolution of the United States of America via borders open to anyone, with immediate bennies for all, paid for either by direct taxes or the indirect tax of watering down the value of existing $$$ by cranking up printing presses? Who pays for the medical care for all? Who repays the profilgate spending of the milenials who borrowed all that $$$ for "education" that was really mostly just leftist indoctrination? Do you ists really live in some kind of rose-colored vacuum, where mommy and daddy have paid for so much for so long, that you really believe that anything worth having should be earned or paid for by someone else?

DocMike

This is a very thoughtful and well written piece...a cautionary tale about historical judgement. I would love to have been there for Bill Thomas' diagram drawing. America is always best served from the sensible center. Price's writing is as good as anything I've been reading in big city papers.

Abby

Careful Robert, your bias is showing (again. And again and again and again and again.)

Boogerface Nutter

I love the way speaking truth is considered bias. Price speaks of his actual experience, not some made up fable.

ReefRanger

He alao inserts his left wing bias wherever possible. Journalists are SUPPOSED TO BE objective. Price was out drunk the day they taught that.

Copper

Objective like the patsies at Fox fake news aka state t v lmao

Lilyrose

How dare you threaten a writer over his words and thought. You Abby are one of the many locals who keep this County on poverty and ill health.






Bill Peloquin

I would say to Mr McCarthy, your first sentence sums up how many people feel about you. You do not care about us. You are the insider now. You will not take calls from your constituents.

Time for you to go, sorry.

REMUDA

Bobby 'Priceless' . . . uh . . . whuuuutttt . . . ? Your usual lib d-d-d-drivel . . . ?

Nevermind

Yet here you are

REMUDA

Astute . . . like you, Nevermind . . . missed ya . . .

BTW, I tease Bobbie all the time . . . even in emails . . . when apropos to his unending "(D)I*I*I*atribes" . . . about 'Cuz Kevin' . . .

Boris25

Typical fake news BS. President Trump will win again in 2020. Remember, Hilary was sure to win and Trump didn't stand a chance.

Steelerman

What is fake about this newspaper piece? It seems Trump sycophants, like McCarthy and yourself, parrot any talking point or moronic phrase like you are suffering from an involuntary nervous tic. By the why, the term "fake news" does not mean anything you do not believe is true because you adamantly refuse to believe in its veracity.

Tom Joad

In 2016, we only suspected that Trump was an a𝓈𝓈hole. Now there is little doubt.

Moardeeb

"Fake News" doesn't work anymore. So 2 years ago.

yorkies2014

sounds like Kev will be catching a train with Donnie to the BigHouse someday.....maybe they can be cellies....

ReefRanger

If rep. McCarthy is smart, He wont be inviting scruffy Price to anymore train rides.

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