Opinion: GOP handling of Kevin McCarthy’s treachery sinks to abysmal lows

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HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Greg Sargent
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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent the weekend phoning Republicans to do damage control, Punchbowl News reports, after we learned that he seriously considered calling on Donald Trump to resign the presidency after the mob assault on the Capitol.
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What offense has the California Republican atoned for in these calls? McCarthy apparently wants Republicans to know Trump has forgiven him for merely entertaining the passing thought that inciting a violent, deadly coup attempt might — might — be an offense that merits resignation.
As Punchbowl puts it, in these calls, McCarthy has been “making sure” Republicans know “he’s good with Trump.” This comes after Trump clarified that their relationship has not been damaged by the leaked audio showing McCarthy discussing Trump’s potential resignation, a possibility that had surely given McCarthy night sweats.
For Republicans in the through-the-looking-glass world of Trumpified GOP politics, the big problem here is not that McCarthy privately concluded that Trump had committed offenses so grave that he perhaps should resign, then spent the next year minimizing those offenses and helping cover them up.


Rather, it’s that McCarthy privately reached that conclusion in the first place. McCarthy’s transgression is that he originally had this thought. Once he has atoned sufficiently for this, the damage will pass.
That might sound like a bad joke. But if you unpack what Republicans are saying right now, it amounts to something very close to this.
“This was literally right after Jan. 6,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) told Fox News, speaking of McCarthy’s private consideration of pushing Trump to resign. “It was a very dark day. It was a very shocking day. A lot of emotions flying high.”
McCaul argued that McCarthy was merely “gaming out various options” for how to proceed if, say, the House impeached and the Senate convicted. But this was never an actual possibility, and neither was any serious effort to get Trump to resign. Given this, McCaul said, McCarthy remains “in very good shape” with Republicans.
In other words, McCarthy should be forgiven for thinking Trump should resign, because this was just the momentary trauma of having lived through Jan. 6 talking!
This flips the story upside down in a morbid way: The actual lived experience of that terrible event should serve as a reminder of how depraved and heinous Trump’s conduct truly was. But Republicans see this as an unfortunate initial overreaction that McCarthy ultimately got past, so he’ll be just fine among them. Cooler heads prevailed!
We heard a similar reaction from Sen. Roy Blunt. The Missouri Republican suggested to NBC News that the idea that Trump would ever resign was daft. Blunt said he was “surprised” that McCarthy would “even suggest” such a thing, since it wasn’t “going to happen.”
Here again, McCarthy’s failing among Republicans was having the thought that Trump should resign. It isn’t just that any effort to make him do this would inevitably fail. For Blunt, it goes without saying that McCarthy shouldn’t have considered suggesting it to Trump, even if only to lay down a marker of what constitutes unacceptable conduct in a leader of the party.
Fittingly enough, it has fallen to Trump himself to demonstrate how bonkers this situation has become. Trump has forgiven McCarthy because he never acted on his heretical first impulse, thus showing that support for Trump ultimately triumphed over it.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal, noting that Republicans such as McCarthy who criticized him just after Jan. 6 quickly realized the error of their ways: “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”
This has been widely depicted as Trump boasting of his control over the GOP. But it’s worse. What has plainly pleased Trump is that Republicans such as McCarthy fully understood the gravity of what he had done but then proved willing to go to great lengths to propagandize away — and help cover up — his extraordinary corruption and even his potential crimes.
This is a “big compliment” to Trump just as the loyalty of mob henchmen is a “big compliment” to an organized crime boss. It is not a stretch to suggest this might be how Trump himself conceives of this.
It’s sometimes said that McCarthy had to do this to keep Trumpist House Republicans in line for his coming bid to be speaker. But the absurdity of this is hiding in plain sight. As historian Sarah Churchwell notes, what’s problematic here is the very fact that there would be “adverse political consequences” for McCarthy if he participated fully in holding Trump accountable for his offenses.
After all, McCarthy himself originally concluded these offenses should perhaps lead to Trump’s resignation, then spent the next year helping Trump obscure and bury them. That’s an act of profound betrayal.
Why does the underlying absurdity identified by Churchwell largely escape notice? Perhaps because much press discussion of this situation is drained of its implications for our democracy and instead analyzes it through the prism of the power politics McCarthy must navigate to satisfy his ambitions.
In such an atmosphere, responses such as these from Republicans such as McCaul and Blunt skate by on the Sunday shows, where they are treated largely like typical exercises in political damage control. But we shouldn’t let that happen without a full airing of how derelict and abnormal they truly are.