Most Republicans who’ve had their careers destroyed by Donald Trump have denounced the twice-impeached former president. But not the man he once called “My Kevin.” Even as the former House speaker slinks out of Congress in humiliation this month, his leadership doomed by his attempts to kowtow to both Trump and the anti-Trumpers in his caucus, Kevin McCarthy says he’ll be voting for the ex-president next year.
It’s just a formality: While McCarthy stayed technically neutral while he was speaker, he embraced Trump at every opportunity. But on CBS News Sunday Morning he formally endorsed him, and he even said he’d take a Trump cabinet role “if I’m the best person for the job.”
Let Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, and Adam Kinzinger leave Congress with their self-respect intact. I guess since McCarthy long ago learned to live without his, he can imagine working under Trump’s thumb. Two other guys whose leadership was ruined by Trump, former House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, wasted no time distancing themselves from the man who’s now calling himself a “day one” dictator. (Ryan was recently further humiliated by Trump, when he was caught publicly lobbying a Wisconsin ally, Representative Mike Gallagher, to endorse Nikki Haley only to have Gallagher quickly back Trump.)
Let McCarthy’s willingness to serve Trump stand as another example of what we’re likely to see in a second Trump term. As all of those articles warning that Trump would assume dictatorial rule made clear over the last week, one big reason Trump’s power would likely go unchecked is that he’d fill his administration with DC lackeys. We wouldn’t see the likes of Gens. John Kelly, John Mattis, Mark Milley, or H.R. McMaster—all of whom eventually stood up to Trump, even if it was too late and too privately to keep the nation from harm. “My Kevin,” the first guy ever ousted as speaker of the house, would fit right in with lackeys like Steven Miller, Jason Miller, and John McEntee.
And that’s after Trump didn’t do much to help McCarthy hold on to his seat in October, when eight Freedom Caucus members toppled him over a temporary budget deal with President Biden. Trump denounced the spending deal McCarthy had made, and when the speaker lost the vote, the former president immediately endorsed flamethrower Jim Jordan, who is even less popular than McCarthy. There’s still a presidential primary race, even though Trump’s lead on the rest of the field is growing—he’s up almost 30 points over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in this week’s NBC News/Des Moines Register Iowa poll. And 70 percent of Trump supporters say their minds are made up, compared to roughly 30 percent for the few who say they’re backing DeSantis or Haley.
Who knows what if anything McCarthy will wind up doing for Trump. He claimed after he lost the speakership that he would stay in Congress. “I’m not resigning. I got a lot more work to do,” he told reporters. Not sure what that work turned out to be; McCarthy quickly changed his mind, vacating his seat a year before the election and leaving successor Mike Johnson with a three-vote GOP margin.
But McCarthy isn’t likely to change his mind about Trump. As Trump continues to embrace the title of “dictator”—if only “for one day,” as he said this weekend, folks like McCarthy will line up behind him. He did urge Trump against that kind of talk, telling CBS’s Robert Costa, “He needs to stop it.” But he endorsed Trump, in conversation with Costa, nonetheless. We know McCarthy can handle a lot of humiliation; he endured 15 ballots before becoming speaker last January. There would be no shortage of self-abasing roles for McCarthy to play in a second Trump term.