House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has never been conservative activists’ dream for a House GOP leader. The blow-dried apotheosis of the mediocre businessman class that has led the GOP to the brink of irrelevance through decades of failed leadership, McCarthy is an easy person for movement conservatives to despise.
McCarthy’s Twitter handle @GOPLEADER, represents what he aspires to be—but in reality, it is we who must say “Go! Pleader” to this political hack who pleads ineffectively with his caucus to stand against the Democrats’ agenda, pleads to disenfranchise members of his caucus in order to appease Democratic whims, and pleads with the news media to change the subject to something other than his rank incompetence.
Most recently we saw this in his decision on Tuesday to elevate through a tweeted press release a dumb but ultimately unimportant offhand Holocaust analogy used by Israel-supporting Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), distracting from the numerous incidents of violence against Jews being committed and excused almost exclusively by left-wing anti-Zionists and antisemites today. Pleader McCarthy always lets the Democrats set the terms of the debate.
Much of the conservative unease that originally accompanied McCarthy’s rise was grounded in a fear that he would simply be a continuation of his corrupt, back-slapping predecessor John Boehner (R-Ohio), who continually warred with conservatives in the caucus and was famously caught distributing checks from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor. Little wonder that conservatives torpedoed McCarthy’s 2015 speakership bid by leaking info about his widely-rumored affair with a congressional colleague, a rumor that seems to have quieted for now, but will certainly reemerge if, as is fairly likely, the GOP seizes control of the House in 2022, putting McCarthy in line to be speaker.
Conservatives must be realistic: We’re not going to get great leaders until we get a better overall caucus. Nonetheless, McCarthy’s weaknesses are dramatic enough that even in our enervated state, the GOP can do much better.
A Litany of Ineptitude
How ineffective is McCarthy? Let us count the ways.
First, He elevated Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who was badly out of step with President Donald Trump and a large chunk of GOP voters, into the No. 3 leadership position after just one House term, an unprecedentedly fast rise for such a junior member. In the wake of her NeverTrump monomania after the 2020 election, McCarthy passionately defended Cheney against conservative opposition during a closed-door caucus session, showing fatally failed judgment in his assessment of a member of his own leadership team. Ultimately, just two months later, with conservative critiques of Cheney having been validated in spectacular fashion, he had to reverse course and jettison her.
Second, he has failed to protect his members and even actively participated in their demise in historically unprecedented ways. As the new Congress was being seated, McCarthy failed to prevent Greene from being booted from her committee assignments for statements she made before she was in Congress and had already publicly apologized for—an unprecedented action against a new member and one who had connected deeply with a large section of the GOP base. Meanwhile, he did nothing to punish Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who in addition to making numerous racist and antisemitic statements, almost certainly committed marriage fraud and immigration fraud and engaged in major campaign finance violations in her affair with her top political consultant.
His actions against Greene were a sequel to his equally unprecedented attack on Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), whom he stripped of all committee assignments for his comments published in a bad-faith interview by the New York Times, which has never met a conservative it didn’t want to destroy. Conservatives can have reasoned disagreements about whether King’s provocative statements—some dumb or silly and others on point but offensive to leftist pieties—were helpful or harmful to the conservative cause. But ultimately those are decisions that should be made by the voters who elected him, and King had been elected nine times by his Iowa constituents.
As King would later note in a House ethics complaint he filed against McCarthy, “the Congressional Research Service has confirmed that I am the only member in searchable history who has been removed from all my committee assignments, having never been accused or convicted of any criminal wrongdoing or having renounced my political party or investigation.”
Having stripped King of his committee assignments and dramatically decreased his utility for his constituents, he then helped engineer King’s defeat in the primary by Randy Feenstra, a useless establishment cog who promptly joined the Republican Main Street Partnership, whose members are the most liberal in the GOP caucus.
Third and finally, Pleader McCarthy continually has failed to unify his caucus on key votes, arguably the most important job of the leader. As Elections Daily editor-in-chief Eric Cunningham has shown using a statistical analysis of House votes, McCarthy has done a horrific job of unifying his caucus in opposition to Joe Biden’s agenda. In contrast, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has done an almost perfect job of holding her caucus together.
Bowing to the Witch Hunt Commission
We saw evidence of McCarthy’s incompetence most recently in his failure to prevent the defection of 35 GOP House members who voted in favor of what will be a transparently partisan commission to investigate the events of January 6.
McCarthy’s performance here was a comedy of unforced errors. He sent Representative John Katko of New York, the first Republican to vote for Trump’s impeachment, to “negotiate” with Pelosi and the Democrats about their demands for a witch hunt commission. The notion that he would send one of 10 supporters of impeachment in his caucus to negotiate with the Democrats, rather than one of the more than 190 opponents of impeachment, boggles the mind.
Meanwhile, there is no congressional commission to investigate the Antifa and Black Lives Matter riots that resulted in $2 billion in losses, damaged hundreds of cities, and caused more than 30 deaths (while flagrantly violating pandemic quarantines). Under McCarthy, the GOP spends practically all of its time negotiating against itself.
Given his terrible performance, it is notable that even before the first Cheney debacle, McCarthy had come under attack in his caucus. Noting his vacillation between blaming Trump for the January 6 events and not doing so, members criticized him for unclear direction. “I think at the end of the day we’re going to be in the majority in two years because Democrats are doing ridiculous shit right now,” said one member at the time.
This is, indeed, the only reason the GOP ever seems to take a congressional majority. Under leaders like McCarthy, we are unable to articulate a positive case for our own party, allowing us to be bailed out time and again only by the Democrats’ insanity. In 2021, that’s simply not good enough.
Pleader McCarthy pleads with the corporate media not to call the GOP racist rather than standing up for his members. Pleader McCarthy can’t unify his caucus. And pleader McCarthy has elevated some of the worst, most divisive, and unpopular voices in the GOP to leadership and then defended them against the justified wrath of his own voters. While he may be great at backslapping and glad-handing, he is intellectually and temperamentally the last sort of leader the GOP needs right now, at a time in which our nation, and the GOP base, are under attack from a ruthless opponent that controls almost every major institution in our society.
If the GOP is serious about building a winning party and a winning agenda, Kevin McCarthy needs to follow Liz Cheney to the backbenches.