House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy continues to thread a precarious needle as he tries to balance all the factions of the Republican Party by simultaneously keeping close to former President Donald Trump while also rewriting the narrative of his role on both January 6 and the weeks leading up to the insurrection at the US Capitol.
When Trump left office, McCarthy had to decide whether to denounce him for inciting the January 6 attack or embrace him in hopes that it would help Republicans secure the majority of the House in the 2022 midterms, a feat that would most likely make McCarthy House speaker.
McCarthy flew to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort days after Trump left Washington, DC, making the calculated decision that it is better to have Trump as an ally, rather than an enemy.
“He could change the whole course of history,” McCarthy said of Trump’s influence over the Republican Party in a recent New York Times interview. “This is the tightest tightrope anyone has to walk.”
Part of that tight rope for McCarthy has meant embracing Trump and his baseless conspiracy theories of election fraud while also relinquishing any responsibility for actions that led to the violent insurrection at the Capitol.
McCarthy has created a false narrative that he did not work to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory even though he supported the initial Republican effort in the House to try and overturn results in six states. He also supported a lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general trying to invalidate votes cast in other states, a case that was ultimately thrown out by the Supreme Court.
“We voted not to certify two states” McCarthy told The New York Times, pushing back on the notion that he played a role in trying to overturn the election.
However, McCarthy papered over the initial effort by House Republicans to invalidate presidential votes from six states.
His claim that just two states’ slate of electors were questioned is partially true, but it leaves out the fact that it was GOP senators who decided to ultimately only support efforts to decertify electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania, even though there is no evidence of fraud or proof that the results from those states could change.
McCarthy is also insisting that even if Republicans had successfully stopped the certification of electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania, the outcome would not change – Biden would still be president, and instead says the effort was an opportunity to raise concerns.
“That was the only time that we could raise the issue that there was a question in the activities in those states,” McCarthy told The New York Times.
This was not the first time McCarthy has tried to rewrite his role in the days that led to the insurrection.
In March, when asked by CNN’s Manu Raju why it was acceptable for him to support Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election in Congress but to criticize Democrats for doing the same in a contested Iowa US House race, McCarthy rejected the notion that he was trying to overturn the election at all. “You’re saying something that is not true,” the California Republican said when Raju stated that Trump had tried to overturn the election results in Congress and McCarthy supported that effort.
McCarthy also sought to ease criticism on Trump by rejecting previous reporting that Trump told him on January 6 in a phone call that the rioters cared more about the election results than he did during an interview with Fox on Sunday.
“I was the first person to contact him when the riots were going on. He didn’t see it. When he ended the call, was saying telling me he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did. He put a video out later” McCarthy told Chris Wallace.
Wallace pushed back by saying, “quite a lot later. And it was a weak video.”
In the video where Trump tells his supporters to “go home” and “we love you,” and asks them to stop attacking the Capitol, he also repeats the lie that the election was stolen and pours more fuel on the fire that incited the insurrection in the first place.
When asked directly if Trump said to McCarthy, “Well Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are” in their January 6 phone call, McCarthy said, “no listen, my conversations with the President are my conversations with the President.”
As McCarthy continues to walk his self-imposed tightrope, his embrace of Trump comes with its own set of challenges.
“He goes up and down with his anger,” McCarthy told The New York Times. “He’s mad at everybody one day. He’s mad at me one day.”
But, at this point, McCarthy seems to have decided that riding the ups and downs of Trump and pursuing a relationship with him is better than the alternative.
“Look, I didn’t want him to leave the party,” McCarthy told The New York Times. “(Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) had stopped talking to him a number of months before. People criticize me for having a relationship with the president. That’s my job.”