McCarthy, All Carrots and No Sticks, Grins His Way Toward the Speakership

That brand of bonhomie extended to the Tea Party era, when Mr. McCarthy and his fellow self-styled “Young Guns” Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Eric Cantor of Virginia helped recruit a phalanx of populist-inspired candidates who helped sweep their party into the House majority, and Mr. McCarthy into leadership.

Mr. McCarthy watched as the hard-right flank of that majority ran John A. Boehner of Ohio from his speakership in 2015 and blocked his own first attempt at securing the job, after 40 of its members announced that they would not support him, questioning his conservative credentials.

They also were unhappy that he had suggested in an interview on Fox News that the House committee investigating the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, had the political aim of damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The California Republican quickly allied himself with former President Donald J. Trump, endorsing him as the party’s nominee in 2016 even as Mr. Ryan was loath to do so, eventually cultivating such a close relationship that Mr. Trump referred to him as “My Kevin.” He famously presented Mr. Trump with a curated package of only the former president’s favorite flavors of Starburst candies.

The relationship fissured after Jan. 6, 2021, when pro-Trump rioters attacked the Capitol stoked by lies of a stolen election, and Mr. McCarthy delivered a speech on the House floor condemning Mr. Trump’s role.

“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” he said. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.”

But the speech infuriated Mr. Trump, and Mr. McCarthy quickly worked to get back in the former president’s good graces, traveling to his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, three weeks later to meet with him.

Almost exactly two years later, Mr. Trump was helping whip votes for Mr. McCarthy this week, telling Republicans on Truth Social, his social media site, that “Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB — JUST WATCH!”


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