Big Kev: A Stone Cold Killa

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) arrives at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol June 9, 2022 in Washington, DC. House Republicans held a news conference to discuss th... WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) arrives at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol June 9, 2022 in Washington, DC. House Republicans held a news conference to discuss the public hearings that will be held this month by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) MORE LESS

This Washington Post article paints a picture of Kevin McCarthy completely at odds with the real life Kevin McCarthy many of us has observed for years. As the piece tells it, McCarthy is backroom enforcer you don’t want to cross. Not content to relive the fates of predecessors John Boehner and Paul Ryan, McCarthy has worked behind the scenes to prune the House GOP of the kinds of bomb throwers and fame-seekers who made Boehner’s and Ryan’s jobs so thankless. Says one McCarthy insider: “He is not a guy to be trifled with. It’s like they say in the Marine Corps, ‘No better friend, no worse enemy.’ And they mean it, and they act on it.”

So there you have it. Minority leader-cum-badass, operating behind the scenes to shape the caucus he wants to lead in 2023. And yet back on planet Earth, the real McCarthy is best known for toadying to whomever has power and momentum at the moment. He famously said Putin pays Trump cash money before becoming Trump’s most ardent defender against the “Russia hoax.” He said Trump was responsible for Jan. 6 before spending months defending him on that front too after it became clear Trump would still call the shots in the GOP. Since bleeding out his dignity for Trump, McCarthy has moved on to QAnon flavors of the week Reps. Boebert and Greene. The article goes into great depth about the various McCarthy-backed dark money groups spending to defend Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler — who voted to impeach Trump. But remember: she lost, to Trump-backed nutcase Joe Kent.

The first part of the article is about McCarthy’s purported takedown of primaried lame-duck Rep. Madison Cawthorn. It’s true that Republican operatives clearly were working to undermine Cawthorn and likely did contribute to his defeat. But it’s worth remembering that Cawthorn went on a podcast and claimed to have been offered coke by his septuagenarian Republicans colleagues while attending one of their orgies. Around this time he also was getting stopped by the cops something like once a week. If we’re fair, we have to conclude that the guy who took out Cawthorn was none other than young Madison himself. If these operatives were working at the behest of Kevin McCarthy, and it’s not an unreasonable assumption that they were, it’s more like they re-doused Cawthorn with gasoline as he sailed the flaming hulk of his decked-out Winnebago over the cliff at Niagara Falls.

McCarthy is a characterologically weak man with a reputation for cringey dignity losses. Does anyone believe, as this article suggests, that the House GOP has been purged of the kind of obstreperous wingnut glory-hounds who would befuddle a McCarthy speakership? That claim is so out of sync with observable reality that it is astonishing.

Perhaps this was McCarthy’s plan; but to look at the caucus as of late September, that plan must have failed miserably.

The biggest change from the Obama-era House GOP to now is that the bomb throwers and extremists aren’t so much meddling from the back benches as calling the shots from the dais. McCarthy is simply standing on the stage with them and passing this off as party unity under disciplined leadership. Fundamentally McCarthy is in hock to Trump. Which means in practice that he is in hock to Trump’s House acolytes. Which is to say, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and even old-timey Freedom Caucus traditionalists like Jim Jordan.

This article has all the hallmarks of what reporters call a “source greaser,” a fawning article you write to get access and build source relationships with an important person. As Republicans remain the odds-on favorite to win the House, get ready for many more of these.

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