The Donald has spoken — and surprisingly, some might say, he’s sticking with the establishment this time.
In an interview with Breitbart News published Friday, former President Donald Trump backed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California for speaker of the House, saying he deserved “a shot,” and anti-establishment Republicans trying to take him down were playing “a very dangerous game.”
“Kevin has worked very hard,” Trump told Breitbart. “He is just — it’s been exhausting. If you think, he’s been all over. I think he deserves the shot. Hopefully he’s going to be very strong and going to be very good and he’s going to do what everybody wants.”
Several anti-establishment Republicans have voiced their opposition to McCarthy taking the speaker’s gavel, creating a potential stumbling block when the lower chamber votes on who will lead it come next January.
While Republicans took back control of the House, it was by a slimmer margin than some had predicted. And, while McCarthy was nominated as speaker in an internal GOP vote in November, according to CBS News, it was by a secret-ballot vote of 188 to 31. McCarthy needs 218 votes to be elected speaker.
While several GOP names have voiced their opposition to McCarthy becoming speaker — most notably Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia and Matt Rosendale of Montana — only one Republican has mounted an official challenge for the gavel: Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona.
I’m running for Speaker to break the establishment.
Kevin McCarthy was created by, elevated by, and maintained by the establishment.https://t.co/tKLPXUxSOA
— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) December 6, 2022
“It is time for new leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives,” Biggs wrote in a Daily Caller piece announcing his candidacy earlier this month.
“The Left wants to see a McCarthy Speakership, as outgoing Majority Whip Clyburn said. Establishment Republicans want to see a continuation of the Swamp, as Paul Ryan has endorsed McCarthy for speaker. And, even phony conservative types, claim that McCarthy is the only guy for them (see radio talker Mark Levin for example, who after blasting McCarthy for years has decided that he is perfect for the job),” he wrote. “And people wonder why the establishment is the establishment.
“We actually have the opportunity to dislodge the establishment and reinvigorate the America First movement that was founded by former President Donald Trump. Yes, that Donald Trump.”
Unfortunately, that Donald Trump isn’t about to bite on that offer, saying McCarthy was his guy and intra-party opposition should back down.
“I like him,” Trump said of the House minority leader during the interview from his Doral golf course in Florida.
As for those trying to take out McCarthy: “I think it’s a very dangerous game that’s being played,” the former president said, noting history could repeat itself.
In 2015, conservatives forced then-House Speaker John Boehner into retirement, ushering in the Paul Ryan era. Unfortunately, Ryan ended up being even more tepidly moderate and legislatively useless than Boehner had been, a feat in and of itself.
“It’s a very dangerous game. Some bad things could happen. Look, we had Boehner and he was a strange person but we ended up with Paul Ryan who was ten times worse. Paul Ryan was an incompetent speaker. I think he goes down as the worst speaker in history. We took [out] Boehner—and a group of people, some of whom are the same, and they’re very good friends of mine. All those people are very good friends of mine.”
Even though Ryan retired from the House in 2019, Trump said conservatives still have to “live with this maniac,” considering Ryan sits on the board of the Fox Corporation.
“Think of it — we ended up with Paul Ryan. Boehner was like Winston Churchill compared to Paul Ryan,” Trump said.
“Boehner wasn’t perfect — nobody’s perfect — but Paul Ryan was a disaster for the Republican Party. That’s what we got. Now we have to live with him. He’s destroying Fox and he’s destroying the New York Post. We got to live with this maniac. This guy, Paul Ryan, couldn’t have gotten elected in his own area of Wisconsin. I went with him after I won the election and we had a tremendous crowd of people and they booed him off the stage. You remember that? They booed him off the stage. This guy is now telling Fox what to do.”
So, good call? Keep in mind, the move comes off of a campaign in which many blame Trump’s candidate choices for blowing the Republicans’ chances at the Senate; political novices Blake Masters in Arizona, Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia all lost races that, in any typical midterm cycle, would be a two-foot putt for the GOP.
Furthermore, the only things that Andy Biggs and Paul Ryan have in common are a Y chromosome and the fact both have names spelled with letters. Anyone who thinks the Arizona representative will turn into the sitcom caricature of a perpetually awkward, socially frozen dishwater conservative that Paul Ryan was at the end of his tenure obviously isn’t familiar with Biggs, a prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus.
That said, McCarthy is neither Boehner nor Ryan, either. Furthermore, several prominent conservatives — including GOP Reps. James Comer of Kentucky and Jim Jordan of Ohio, as well as syndicated radio host Mark Levin — have warned of the chaos a McCarthy-Biggs fight might engender.
Trump even spoke of a “doomsday scenario” in which Democrats partnered with ultra-establishment Republicans to elect someone even more Paul Ryan-y than Paul Ryan to the speaker’s chair. (Remember, the speaker doesn’t even have to be a member of the House, and Rep. Liz Cheney is soon to be out of a job. I’m not saying, I’m just sayin’.)
Also, it’s important to remember the one time when Trump went right in picking a Senate candidate this cycle.
For most of the 2022 Republican primary race for Senate in Ohio, the top two runners were untested businessman Mike Gibbons and former treasurer Josh Mandel, a man of many controversies who was known for hemorrhaging campaign staffers over what Business Insider termed a “toxic workplace.”
Usually, I wouldn’t be taking Business Insider’s word for it, except then this happened during one of the debates:
It would appear that Mike Gibbons and Josh Mandel almost got into a fist fight in the Ohio GOP Senate debate.
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) March 18, 2022
Nevertheless, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, both of these would-be pugilists were well ahead of the rest of the field even after the not-quite-fisticuffs; considering Mandel was routinely described as a “Trump loyalist,” everyone figured he’d still get the former president’s endorsement.
Instead, Trump astonished everyone by endorsing a distant third-place candidate who had openly criticized him during the 2016 electoral cycle: venture capitalist and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance. Ten points behind both Mandel and Gibbons with less than three weeks to go in the race, according to the RCP polling average, Vance leapfrogged both men and ended up winning by over 8 points — then took the November general election against Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan.
While Vance is said to have “underperformed” in solidly red Ohio, another look at that video demonstrates that both Gibbons and Mandel, the other two viable candidates left in the field, would have imploded. Trump, not unwisely, realized that men who couldn’t keep from punching each other out weren’t cut out for the Senate. In choosing to endorse Vance, he likely saved the Ohio seat — even if he wouldn’t have been the former president’s first choice, all else considered. One can espy the same spirit in choosing to back Kevin McCarthy.
Whatever the case, he hopes to maintain good relationships with those who want someone else to take the gavel.
“Now, I’m friendly with a lot of those people who are against Kevin,” Trump told Breitbart. “I think almost every one of them are very much inclined toward Trump, and me toward them. But I have to tell them, and I have told them, you’re playing a very dangerous game.
“You could end up with the worse situation. I don’t even want to say what it is, but I could tell you it’s a worse situation. You could end up with some very bad situations. I use the Boehner to Paul Ryan example. You understand what I’m saying? It could be a doomsday scenario. It could be. You could end up with somebody who would be a disaster like Paul Ryan was.”
Time will tell if he made the right move.