House minority leader Kevin McCarthy blatantly lied to Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. Is that really news, “Republican leader lies”? Let’s take it apart.
Wallace pressed McCarthy on his changing stories about Trump’s role in fomenting the violent January 6 Capitol siege. GOP Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, you’ll recall, said that when McCarthy called Trump that day asking for help stopping the riot, the disgraced former president replied, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
Asked by Wallace about that account, McCarthy refused to answer directly, but defended Trump. “I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on,” he claimed. “He didn’t see it, but he ended the call…telling me he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did. He put a video out later.”
There are several lies in there. “He didn’t see it” is contradicted by many contemporaneous reports of Trump watching the chaos on television and enjoying it (though some of his supporters struck him as “low class”). “[Trump said] he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did,” isn’t quite true either. Trump waited hours to post a video that again called the election “fraudulent” and “stolen,” by “very bad people,” telling the rioters, “We love you. You’re very special.” He did urge them to “go home,” but not until late that afternoon, as many were already leaving.
Why did McCarthy move from asserting a week after the riot, honestly, that Trump bears “some responsibility” for the violence, and even suggesting that he could be “censured,” to a full-on rewriting of history and attempted cover-up of Trump’s role? It’s obvious. He is now the leader of the disloyal opposition, aiming to be House speaker of the Insurrection after the 2022 midterm elections, and he leads a party that has nothing to run on but Trumpism—racism, xenophobia, voter suppression, and low taxes for the rich. He can’t imagine a world without Trump.
Remember that even after the Capitol siege, McCarthy was among the 140 GOP House members who voted against accepting Joe Biden’s victory in Arizona and Pennsylvania, validating the Trump lie that led to the violence. And right after Biden’s inauguration, McCarthy hightailed it to Mar-a-Lago to get back in the boss’s good graces, where he claimed Trump’s popularity has “never been stronger.”
McCarthy’s thinking, if you can call it that, became clearer in an interview with The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich. In their conversations, he’s alternately hangdog and lapdog—anything but alpha dog—lamenting Trump’s bizarre mood swings. “He’s mad at everybody one day. He’s mad at me one day,” he says glumly.
Explaining his efforts to stay in Trump’s good graces, the minority leader put it this way: “He could change the whole course of history,” as if the chance of Trump turning on the GOP would be up there with the fall of the Roman Empire or the US Civil War. “This is the tightest tightrope anyone has to walk,” he complained. (As Esquire’s Charlie Pierce noted on Twitter: “Isn’t a very tight tightrope a good thing??” Poor, dumb Kevin.)
McCarthy also got pushback from his right-wing Bakersfield district in the weeks after his mild Trump criticism. “I’ll just boil it down: He’s a RINO traitor,” local conservative activist Kenneth Mettler, who ran against McCarthy in the 2016 GOP primary, told the Times. “President Trump did nothing wrong. President Trump communicated his case. He did not incite anybody. I do honestly think there were agitators, infiltrators.”
Now McCarthy’s even nodding to the lie that “agitators, infiltrators” might have participated in the January 6 riot, by insisting that any possible investigative commission examine the role of groups like antifa and Black Lives Matter in fomenting violence in Washington, D.C. Wallace noted that House speaker Nancy Pelosi has already compromised on earlier demands that the commission have more Democrats than Republicans, with the majority having subpoena power; she now proposes equal representation and subpoena power for both parties. McCarthy tried to claim Pelosi hadn’t compromised, though she’s done so publicly, but went on to say, “In the last year we’ve had political violence across this country and in this city. I think we should look at all of that.”
The intellectual and moral barrenness of McCarthy’s agenda was underscored by the announcement this weekend that a weeklong House GOP retreat will feature keynote speeches by moronic GOP pundit Ben Shapiro and Trump loyalist Ronna (formerly Romney) McDaniel, RNC chair.
This spectacle of self-abasement, from McCarthy to McDaniel, would be funny if not so tragic for the country. McCarthy’s whitewashing Trump’s role in the January 6 violence, and his continued fronting for his claim that Democratic election fraud or abuse elected Joe Biden, means that in 2022 and probably in the 2024 presidential race, Republicans will almost all be running on the lie that the 2020 election was “fraudulent” or “stolen.” Another GOP platform pillar holds that (the essentially nonexistent) antifa group and overwhelmingly peaceful Black Lives Matter movement present more of a threat to democracy than the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Proud Boys and who knows who else—and who within Trump’s White House. And that peaceful protests against police brutality present more of a clear and present danger than a riot that left five dead and injured hundreds of police officers.
In a CBS poll on Biden’s first 100 days, the president overall has high approval, 58 percent, with 65 percent approving of his handling of the pandemic. Still, a stunning 70 percent of Republicans polled “do not believe Biden was the legitimate winner” of the 2020 election. Yes, registered Republicans make up a dwindling minority of the electorate, only 25 percent according to Gallup’s most recent poll on the question, down from 31 percent just before the November election. But they’re loud and they’re angry and so-called leaders like McCarthy are betting his party’s future on them—not to mention the country’s.
Editor’s note: This piece has been corrected to attribute the five deaths to the riot, not the groups rioting on the Capitol.