Some may have been under the impression the Kevin McCarthy Tapes would irreparably harm Bakersfield’s ambitious congressman. Some may have assumed our collective peek behind the curtain, revealing a public McCarthy miles distant from the private McCarthy, would cost him.
It won’t. Why?
McCarthy has it, in dizzying amounts, thanks to a fundraising prowess unmatched in Washington. The House minority leader has brought in an unprecedented $104 million thus far this election cycle and he’ll hand out most of it to other, needier GOP candidates (or the PACs that support them) as the 2022 midterms heat up.
McCarthy raised $31.5 million in the first quarter of 2022 alone. His total for this cycle surpasses not just that of any previous Republican minority leader but previous GOP speakers as well, including John Boehner and Paul Ryan, the two most recent.
McCarthy will climb that pile of money all the way to the speakership, handing out fistfuls to GOP congressional candidates along the way.
They need McCarthy. And McCarthy needs them.
Yes, McCarthy’s recent duplicitousness has been breathtaking. His willingness to say one thing one day and the next day insist he said the opposite is without parallel. (His endorsement of and then, literally two hours later, opposition to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation in 2017 is but one example.)
Thing is, no one cares.
Here he was telling colleagues, in the smoldering wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection 16 months ago, that Donald Trump’s impeachment seemed likely and his conviction plausible, that a Nixonian exit was perhaps the outgoing president’s best option, and that McCarthy himself intended to break that harsh news to Trump. And then here was McCarthy, less than a week after that phone conversation, brushing aside the botched coup like last week’s no-longer-relevant poll numbers, which is essentially what it has turned out to be.
Mere days after McCarthy, in a moment of underappreciated leadership, was heard on that call weighing the pros and cons of advancing a removal-via-25th Amendment argument, he was suddenly telling the world everything was fine.
And it was fine, from his point of view, because no one who matters to McCarthy cares about Jan. 6.
No. One. Cares.
You already know the backstory here. The book “This Will Not Pass,” by New York Times reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin, is soooo last week. No one cares that McCarthy once expressed apparently heartfelt outrage over the post-election siege of the Capitol. No one cares that McCarthy described the book’s revelation that he intended to ask Trump to resign as “totally false and wrong” before it turned out to be totally true and accurate. No one cares that McCarthy responded to the promptly produced audio evidence of the book’s accuracy by indignantly denying he ever actually spoke to Trump about resigning — which the book does not say he did.
Once upon a time, briefly, I thought this mess might affect McCarthy’s chances of snatching the speaker’s gavel from Nancy Pelosi shortly after Republicans take back the House.
After all, McCarthy has had trouble before with far-right elements of the Republican conference, and his seeming disloyalty to Trump might have been viewed by some as the final dagger. Then there’s this: Someone who was on those taped phone calls either has a secret warm spot for the New York Times or, more likely, has it in for McCarthy. And I'm not so sure that someone is Liz Cheney.
Yes, I briefly thought this mess might hurt McCarthy. It will not. Nothing, barring the most calamitous misstep, will keep McCarthy from the speakership. Members of Congress know where their bread is buttered: in McCarthy’s kitchen.
McCarthy’s 20th Congressional District campaign has no need for the kind of money he is raising; he’s a shoo-in, as usual. He’ll hand out that cash to other, less fundraising-gifted colleagues and they in turn will reward him with their vote for speaker come mid-November.
McCarthy’s vast campaign-donation wealth has tapped a number of sources: His own congressional campaign committee as well as an affiliated leadership PAC and several joint fundraising committees, among them the McCarthy Victory Fund and Take Back the House 2022, whose top donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, are in the finance, real estate, energy and gambling sectors.
Almost all of the money raised in this election cycle came prior to the release of The Tapes, however. How will McCarthy’s candid comments about Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riot — “atrocious and totally wrong,” according to the latest audio recording to be made public, taped Jan. 8, 2021 — play in Trumpland? Just fine, if an April 27 closed-door meeting of House GOP members is any indication. McCarthy received a standing ovation.
The next test will come Monday, when Trump is scheduled to appear at a major fundraiser for McCarthy and House Republicans in Dallas. It will be the first time the two will have been together in the same public setting since the tapes became the controversy of the moment.
My prediction: another standing ovation.
Because, atrocious behavior or not, no one cares.
Robert Price’s column appears here Sundays. Reach him at RobertPrice@KGET.com or via Twitter: @stubblebuzz. The opinions expressed are his own.