Spokesman Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday declared Donald J. Trump the « strongest political opponent » against President Biden, rushing to clarify his loyalty to the former president hours after suggesting in a television interview that Mr. Trump may not be the best positioned Republican presidential candidate to prevail in the 2024 election.
The hasty attempt to curry favor with Mr. Trump underscores Mr. McCarthy’s fear of alienating the former president as he struggles to keep his fractious House majority united and resist mounting pressure from right-wing lawmakers loyal to Mr. Trump. And it reflected the precarious position of Mr McCarthy, who has not endorsed Mr Trump or any other candidate, as the GOP presidential primaries take shape.
His latest struggles began Tuesday morning when, during an interview with CNBC, Mr. McCarthy wondered whether it would be good for the party to have Mr. Trump as its presidential candidate, given his legal woes.
“Can he win that election? Yes, he can win that election,” McCarthy said. “The question is: is he the strongest to win the election? I don’t know this answer.
The comment irked Trump’s allies, sparking an urgent effort by McCarthy to backtrack. He contacted Breitbart News, the right-wing news outlet, to offer an exclusive interview in which he said the former president was « stronger today than he was in 2016 » and accused the media of « trying to driving a wedge between President Trump and House 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 polls continue to show, » McCarthy told Breitbart in comments he later provided. as a written statement.
Mr. McCarthy also called Mr. Trump on Tuesday, according to three people familiar with the exchange, two of whom characterized the conversation as an apology.
Immediate damage control reflects how dependent Mr. McCarthy has remained on Mr. Trump while facing criticism from his right flank, and how his alliance with the conservative media ecosystem has helped isolate him. In the past, Breitbart has helped lead public campaigns against top Republican leaders, including McCarthy’s predecessors John A. Boehner and Paul D. Ryan, who have refused to bow to the will of the party’s far-right.
But Mr. McCarthy has cultivated a relationship with the website. His story on Tuesday highlighted Mr McCarthy’s all-out defense of Mr Trump and accused the mainstream media of taking his comments out of context.
Mr. McCarthy has not officially endorsed Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and has been advised by people like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a frequent outside adviser, not to.
However, his ability to speak at critical turning points has depended on support from Trump, who could easily exacerbate tensions between McCarthy and far-right lawmakers by encouraging them to challenge his leadership. Mr. McCarthy has been careful not to show daylight between himself and the former president.
In an effort to keep his fragile majority together, Mr. McCarthy has at key moments allowed the House to become Mr. Trump’s instrument of revenge and retaliation.
He scammed Alvin L. Bragg, the District Attorney of Manhattan, even before Mr. Trump was officially indicted in New York on charges of orchestrating the cover-up of a secret $130,000 payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels. He also authorized three of his committee chairs to join the criminal investigation, asking the prosecutor to provide communications, documents and testimony.
Similarly, Mr. McCarthy raged against the Justice Department for indicting Mr. Trump for his handling of confidential documents. Last week, he said he supported a resolution calling for Trump’s two impeachments to be reversed.
Mr. McCarthy has a cordial, if not close, relationship with Mr. Trump, whom he credits with helping him win the tough race for speaker.
Tuesday’s dust-off was reminiscent of another far more dramatic case in which Mr. McCarthy rushed to paper over a potential rift between himself and Mr. Trump.
After speaking in the House after the January 6, 2021 Capitol storming to say that Mr. Trump « bears responsibility » for the attack, Mr. McCarthy famously tried to mend his relationship with the man who remained the politician most popular force right.
Just over a week after Trump left the White House, McCarthy visited him at Mar-a-Lago, smiling and presenting what continued to be a united front.