It is said that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. For Kevin McCarthy, who had a lot riding on his party claiming a historic midterm victory that would restore a substantial Republican majority in the House, his most formidable adversary turns out to be the American electorate, who turned out in numbers sufficient to blunt the vaunted “red wave” and keep Democratic losses to a minimum. Many House races remain uncalled; it’s possible that when all is done and dusted, McCarthy might be left with a majority large enough to be spit-shined into respectability. But fresh reporting from NBC News suggests that the vultures are already circling.
NBC’s report—published Thursday, and authored by Scott Wong, Kyle Stewart, and Kate Santaliz—is worth a full read. But the long and the short of it is that McCarthy is going to likely need the support of the entire caucus to obtain the gavel, and his historic troubles keeping the House Freedom Caucus in his corner may prove to be his undoing. Per NBC News:
“No one currently has 218” votes, said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, as he emerged from a private Freedom Caucus meeting near the Capitol where members were discussing their strategy. Roy previously told NBC News he has not decided who he is backing for speaker.
“I have personally stated that Kevin McCarthy has not done anything to earn my vote,” added another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.
Russ Vought, an influential conservative activist who went on to serve as Trump’s White House budget director, also warned against a McCarthy speakership in a statement Thursday.
“Kevin McCarthy’s speakership is in deep trouble. Members will have to go home and explain to constituents why they are voting for a leader who is not committed to waging war against a woke and weaponized government,” said Vought, now president of the conservative Center for Renewing America.
Back in August, The New Republic’s Grace Segers and Daniel Strauss published their magnum opus on McCarthy’s outsize ambitions, and even at a time when Republicans could still dream of a big midterm victory, there were signs that McCarthy’s hold on his caucus was incredibly fragile. Per Segers and Strauss:
But a few months before the November elections, some congressional Republicans are privately unsure if McCarthy even has the votes to become speaker. There’s almost always some last-minute alternative candidate who emerges in defiance of the front-runner. It’s likely a long shot will throw his or her hat in the ring, but congressional Republicans interviewed for this article also suggested that a more serious candidate like House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, McCarthy’s longtime deputy and occasional rival, would make a play for the speakership. Others have mentioned House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, who has spent the past year burnishing her credentials with the MAGA crowd.…
Some House Republicans have dismissed reporters’ questions about leadership as inside baseball, but even a sidestep can be telling. “I think we have a clear objective here as a conference: Go win seats and go create a majority to go stand up against Biden. And we need to have a conversation about what that’s going to look like, and then we’ll figure out our leadership structure,” said Representative Chip Roy of Texas. “Kevin’s a friend. I have a lot of friends in the conference. Let’s just keep marching forward and win in November.”
So far, Steve Scalise, who was thought to be the likeliest to challenge for the speakership, has publicly maintained his support for McCarthy, even as he prepares to launch a bid to become the majority leader in the House. Stefanik, meanwhile, rather pointedly endorsed former President Donald Trump on Friday. Her support, at a time when so many have plumped for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to seize the mantle, may serve her in good stead should Trump withdraw his own (tenuous) support for McCarthy.
Finally, if you need further indication that the red wave’s failure to materialize is going to be roiling Republicans on Capitol Hill, it appears that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in a spot of bother as well: Florida Senator Marco Rubio took to Twitter on Friday to call for postponing the Senate leadership vote next week. (And yes, we took the time to be extra sure that this was, in fact, the real Marco Rubio, and not one of Elon Musk’s newly minted blue-check impersonators. What a world!)