Kevin McCarthy, the California congressman who is the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, has been one of the most loyal and consistent of President Donald Trump’s toadies.
Since Trump’s election, McCarthy has served as senior enabler, helping empower and normalize the most divisive president of our lifetimes at each step. At last year’s Republican convention McCarthy said that “no one has done more to protect and advance” our “great nation” than Trump.
And all the while, he has taken every opportunity to attack and demean House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats.
So it was jarring, to say the least, when he got to his feet in the House chamber during Wednesday’s impeachment proceedings and — now chastened — called for unity, of all things, and an end to political polarization. What, suddenly he’s Mahatma Gandhi?
McCarthy even blamed the president for last week’s riots at the U.S. Capitol, saying that Trump was not “free from fault,” after all, but “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack by mob rioters.”
McCarthy said a fact-finding commission should be established. And he’s all for introducing a resolution to censure Trump. As for a second impeachment, he thinks that goes too far because it will lead to further polarization rather than the unity the country so desperately needs.
“I understand that for some, this call for unity may ring hollow,” he said. “But times like these are when we must remember who we are as Americans and what we stand for.”
Uh, yeah, actually — it does ring hollow. It rings hollow, hypocritical and dishonest. Not to mention late, coming as it does with only a week left in Trump’s term.
McCarthy’s speech sounded desperate, frankly — as if he had realized in recent weeks that his best buddy in the White House was on his way out, having been defeated in his outrageous 11th-hour battle to subvert the election. McCarthy can see as well as the rest of us that Trump is headed toward the history books as one of the worst American presidents ever. Since last week’s horrific mob riot at the Capitol, even many Republican voters have expressed shock and shame at what the Trump presidency has wrought.
If McCarthy hopes ever to become speaker of the House — and oh, does he want to be speaker — he is, to put it kindly, imperfectly positioned, even if Republicans retake the chamber.
So he’s seeking to change his tone. But let’s not allow the record to be obscured. Let’s not forget how he cheered Trump on even when he should have known better — when he undoubtedly did know better but speaking out just didn’t serve his purposes.
Remember in 2017, when Trump asked at a celebratory lunch just before his inauguration, “Where’s Kevin?” The president then looked around, saw McCarthy and said “There’s my Kevin.” That was a defining moment; the words spoke for themselves. From that day forward, McCarthy was Trump’s Kevin.
By many accounts, no other legislator had the influence with Trump that McCarthy had. He quickly became the Republican in the House tasked with moving Trump’s ugly legislative agenda through Congress. The two shared a preference for deal-making and back-slapping over the nitty gritty of policymaking.
For his part, McCarthy gushed that he thought it was great to have a “disruptor” in the White House.
He defended the decision by military officials to spend money at Trump-owned properties.
Then there was the impeachment process — the first impeachment process, that is. Remember how, echoing his leader, McCarthy called it “rigged” and “empty” and “partisan.” McCarthy insisted Trump did nothing at all wrong in his famous call with the Ukrainian president.
And remember how McCarthy said Trump had unleashed a “Marshall Plan” to fight COVID-19? And he told Sean Hannity that when it came to the coronavirus, Trump was “exactly the type of leader we need in the White House.”
Worst of all, McCarthy embraced and amplified Trump’s baseless assertions that the 2020 election was a fraud and that Trump, not Biden, had won.
“President Trump won this election,” McCarthy told Laura Ingraham. “So everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet…. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.”
Mimicking Trump, he called for every voting challenge to be heard and “every legal vote” to be counted, despite having no basis for questioning the outcome. He voted in the House to object to Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania and Arizona, further validating the president’s lies. He signed on to a Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate millions of votes.
And now he has the audacity to stand up and talk about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the election of 1800 and the need to ensure the peaceful transfer of power?
Yes, that rings hollow.
I’m all for unity and engagement and an end to pointless polarization. It’s absolutely necessary to the rebuilding of our battered democratic system. But perhaps Kevin McCarthy is not the best person to usher it in.
Nicholas Goldberg is an associate editor and op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.