House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Saturday seemed to drive at an objective he’s been trying to reach for more than a month now: to win back the favor of a departed president who still holds overwhelming sway in the Republican Party.
McCarthy showered praise on former President Donald Trump during a panel at the Conservative Action Political Conference which appears to have become a platform for doing just that.
“We got closer than anyone thought we could get,” McCarthy said, referring to Republican House wins and GOP incumbents who defied polls by keeping their seats during the November election last year — a win that he attributed to the former president.
“President Trump worked on all these races,” McCarthy said during the Saturday afternoon panel, regaling the audience with a story about Trump holding “rallies over the phone” for candidates from his hospital bed when he was sick with COVID-19 in October.
Chiming in on praise for Trump, was fellow panelist Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), who said that a group of “very few Republicans” had made themselves unpopular by countering the former president.
“The least popular in our party are those who want to erase Donald Trump and the Donald Trump supporters from our party,” Banks said, “Let me tell you, if that happens, we won’t win back the majority in 2022. We definitely won’t win back the White House in 2024 if we erase Donald Trump.”
The lavished praise on the former president seemed to set aside the fact that Trump’s false conspiracies of a stolen election caused notable furor among Republican voters in Georgia who remained focused on the president’s loss even during the Jan. 5 runoffs.
Trump’s diversion of focus at that time likely inadvertently helped deliver wins to both Democratic candidates who claimed the state’s Senate seats.
Politico’s Playbook reported early Saturday that Trump was mounting renewed animosity toward the minority leader.
Three people within Trump’s close orbit told Politico that the ex-president was stewing over McCarthy even after he flew down to Mar-a-Lago last month to repair the damage he had done after suggesting that Trump may have played a hand in the violence that broke out as a mob of Trump supporters descended and laid siege on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The reason for the former president’s continued wrath against McCarthy is likely tied to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) who has not been reticent about withdrawing her support for the former president, whose looming influence in the Republican Party has played a starring role in this week’s CPAC.
Cheney and McCarthy had clashed when asked earlier by reporters during a press conference this week whether or not Trump should have a speaking slot at CPAC.
While McCarthy suggested Trump should speak, Cheney said: “That’s up to CPAC.”
“I’ve been clear in my views about President Trump and the extent to which following January 6, I don’t believe he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country,” the conference chair added.
McCarthy’s gushing comments, may have been part of a broader effort to win his way back into Trump’s arms. The fawning remarks on Saturday followed earlier comments Thursday that seemed to drive at a similar goal when the minority leader took jabs at Cheney during a Fox News appearance on Thursday, accusing her of supporting “cancel culture.”
A Trump aide told Politico that the ex-president will likely further rattle talk of a Republican divide by dismissing the GOP establishment. “The only divide in the Republican Party is between the grassroots and a half a dozen Beltway insiders,” the former president is expected to say.