House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) rushed to declare Donald Trump the “strongest political opponent” against President Joe Biden on Tuesday, hours after suggesting the former president might not be the “strongest” candidate to win the 2024 presidential elections.
McCarthy’s swift clean up came just hours after he said he wasn’t sure if Trump was the strongest to win the 2024 elections during a CNBC interview Tuesday morning, referring to the mounting legal troubles the former president is facing.
“Can he win that election? Yeah, he can win that election,” McCarthy said of a Biden-Trump matchup. “The question is, is he the strongest to win the election; I don’t know that answer.”
Trump allies were reportedly not happy with the Speaker’s remarks.
“I’ve been fielding calls on this since it happened,” one Trump ally told CNN, referring to McCarthy’s comments. “People are not happy. What was he thinking?”
Following the pushback, McCarthy — who has not yet officially endorsed Trump — launched a frantic effort to walk back his comments.
He contacted Breitbart to offer the exclusive interview in which he declared his confidence in Trump in a written statement to the publication. He also blamed the media for taking his earlier comments out of context and “attempting to drive a wedge between President Trump and House Republicans.”
“As usual, the media is attempting to drive a wedge between President Trump and House Republicans as our committees are holding Biden’s DOJ accountable for their two-tiered levels of justice,” McCarthy said. “The only reason Biden is using his weaponized federal government to go after President Trump is because he is Biden’s strongest political opponent, as polling continues to show.”
McCarthy also called Trump, according to three sources who talked to the New York Times. Two of the sources characterized the conversation as an apology. While he went into damage control mode quickly, it apparently wasn’t enough to calm anger in Trump’s inner circle, Politico reported this morning.
But the rapid walk back is a reflection of McCarthy’s fragile speakership – and the influence Trump still holds among his caucus’ right flank, whom McCarthy has no business upsetting at the moment. His speakership has depended on Trump’s support from the beginning. Trump reportedly helped the California Republican secure the gavel after a days long, 15-round speakership election cringe-fest that all but sealed McCarthy’s fate as a speaker beholden to a small but loud fringe group loyal to Trump.
And now, with the ongoing public revolt from far-right House Freedom Caucus members, McCarthy surely does not want to make an enemy out of Trump.
Many Freedom Caucus members have been upset with the Speaker since he stopped his party’s own hostage-taking and made a deal with President Biden to increase the debt ceiling and not let the country default on its debts. Earlier this month, a group of MAGA hardliners even rebelled on the House floor, purposely sinking a procedural rule vote in the Republican-controlled House in retaliation for the debt limit deal. In response, Republican leadership had to cancel planned votes for the rest of the week, crippling the House schedule and effectively blocking their own party from passing messaging legislation.