President Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday declared Donald J. Trump the “strongest political opponent” against President Biden, quick to make clear his loyalty to the former president just hours after suggesting in a televised interview that Trump might not be the best republican presidential candidate. positioned to prevail in the 2024 elections.
The hasty attempt to curry favor with Trump underscores McCarthy’s fear of alienating the former president as he struggles to hold his divided House majority together and resist mounting pressure from right-wing lawmakers loyal to Trump. And it reflected the precarious position of McCarthy, who has not endorsed Trump or any candidate, as the Republican presidential primary takes shape.
His latest difficulties began Tuesday morning when, during an interview with CNBC, McCarthy wondered if it would be good for the party to have Trump as its presidential candidate given his legal troubles.
“Can he win that election? Yes, he can win that election,” McCarthy said. “The question is, is he the strongest to win the elections; I don’t know that answer.
The comment riled Trump allies, triggering an urgent effort by McCarthy to back down. He contacted Breitbart News, the right-wing news outlet, for an exclusive interview in which he said the former president was “stronger today than he was in 2016” and blamed the media for “trying to drive a wedge between the president Trump and the House of Representatives. republicans”.
“The only reason Biden is using his armed federal government to go after President Trump is because he is Biden’s strongest political opponent, as the polls continue to show,” McCarthy told Breitbart in comments he later provided as a written statement. .
McCarthy also called Trump on Tuesday, according to three people familiar with the exchange, two of whom characterized the conversation as an apology.
The immediate damage control reflected how dependent McCarthy remained on Trump as he faced criticism from his right flank, and how his alliance with the conservative media ecosystem helped to isolate him. In the past, Breitbart has helped run public campaigns against top Republican leaders, including McCarthy’s predecessors John A. Boehner and Paul D. Ryan, who refused to bow to the party’s far-right will.
But McCarthy has cultivated a relationship with the website. His story on Tuesday highlighted McCarthy’s vociferous defense of Trump and accused the mainstream media of taking his comments out of context.
McCarthy has not officially endorsed Trump’s presidential campaign and has been advised against it by the likes of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a frequent outside adviser.
Still, his speaking at critical turning points has hinged on support from Trump, who could easily exacerbate tensions between McCarthy and far-right lawmakers by encouraging them to challenge his leadership. McCarthy has been careful not to show the light of day between himself and the former president.
Trying to hold his fragile majority together, McCarthy has at key moments allowed the House to become Trump’s tool of revenge and retaliation.
He savagely attacked Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, even before Trump was officially indicted in New York on charges of orchestrating a cover-up of a $130,000 cash payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. He also authorized three of the presidents of his commission to insert themselves in the criminal investigation, demanding from the prosecutor communications, documents and testimonies.
McCarthy also raged at the Justice Department for charging Trump over his handling of classified documents. She said last week that she supported a resolution calling for the expungement of the two impeachment trials against Trump.
McCarthy has a cordial, if not close, relationship with Trump, whom he credits with helping him win the tense House presidential race.
Tuesday’s spat was reminiscent of another, much more dramatic instance when McCarthy was quick to document a potential rift between him and Trump.
After speaking in the House of Representatives after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 to say that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack, McCarthy sought to mend his relationship with the man who remained the most popular political leader. force right.
Just over a week after Trump left the White House, McCarthy visited him at Mar-a-Lago, smiling and presenting what remains a united front.