Kevin McCarthy’s downfall reportedly included a blow-up with former President Donald Trump, who he blamed for not calling off a faction of House conservatives including Matt Gaetz bent on his ouster.
The California congressman’s tenure as speaker of the House lasted less than one full year; a grinding election process ended up being a prelude to a weak, ineffective leader failing to maintain trust among his party’s right wing and facing the axe after cutting a deal with Democrats to keep the government funded.
Most frustratingly for Mr McCarthy: the leader of the pack of wolves at his heels was none other than Matt Gaetz, the grandstanding House Republican from Florida, Donald Trump’s adopted home state, who is known to be a close ally of the former president. The battle for Mr McCarthy’s fate ended up looking as much a microcosm of the GOP’s ongoing civil war as it was an intra-caucus personality fight. The ex-speaker clearly expected to maintain his position, having told journalists that he would be “fine” and would “survive” heading into the vote; afterwards, he waged a campaign of vengeance-by-proxy against Democrats who refused to save him, as his allies ordered several kicked out of their Capitol offices.
Now, multiple people familiar with a conversation between the former speaker and the ex-president after Mr McCarthy’s removal have told The Washington Post that he was so hurt by the ordeal that he exploded at Mr Trump for not ordering Mr Gaetz to back down.
“F*** you,” the Post reports those persons as quoting the former speaker.
A spokesperson for Mr McCarthy’s office unsurprisingly denied that the blow-up occurred when contacted by the Post. Still, the report comes just a day after a CNN report was published detailing excerpts from an upcoming book in which Liz Cheney, at the time a member of GOP leadership alongside Mr McCarthy, accused her once-colleague of lying on national television about the 2020 election results after telling her the same day with certainty that Mr Trump had lost.
The past few months have been tumultuous to say the least for the former speaker. His ouster kicked off weeks of chaos in the House, with Republicans still technically in control of the chamber but unable to reach consensus on a speaker. Finally, the caucus selected relative-unknown Mike Johnson after the defeat of several allies of Mr McCarthy and Mr Trump alike; Mr Johnson now finds himself in roughly the same position in which Mr McCarthy was ahead of the government funding vote that ended his leadership career.
Bad blood appears to be in abundance within the GOP conference. Mr McCarthy himself was seen by an NPR congressional correspondent elbowing a Republican colleague who had voted for his removal on 14 November; the incident sparked a minor confrontation between him and the lawmaker, Rep Tim Burchett of Tennessee.
It remains unclear if Mr McCarthy will seek a return to leadership of the GOP House conference in the future. He has publicly maintained that he will run for re-election next year, and retains control of a sizeable campaign war chest for that purpose. A report in Axios threw that into doubt this week, however, as Mr McCarthy is reported to have told colleagues and others that he wants to “get the hell out” of Congress and may resign his seat before the election next year.