In the weeks since former President Donald Trump launched his third presidential campaign, few political moments have underscored his diminished standing inside the Republican Party as the ongoing stalemate over Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid to be House speaker.
So far, Trump’s endorsement of McCarthy has failed to deliver a victory for the California Republican multiple times. After a long night of negotiations intended to move the needle in his favor, McCarthy repeatedly failed to clinch the 218 votes needed to control the gavel yet again on Thursday afternoon.
McCarthy’s stumbles have put a spotlight on Trump, who has long cast himself as the ultimate dealmaker but whose support of the top Republican lawmaker isn’t translating on Capitol Hill. Said one Republican strategist and former Trump campaign official, the former president “doesn’t have the same sway or power that he likes to think he has.”
“He emphatically endorsed Kevin McCarthy and none of these Trump-esque, ultra-MAGA figures budged,” this person said.
Trump’s inability to convince GOP lawmakers revered by his own “America First” movement further illuminates the changing political landscape in which he is now competing to be the Republican Party’s next presidential nominee. Wounded by several campaign missteps – including his Mar-a-Lago dinner with an avowed White supremacist, call to terminate the US Constitution, and more recent denigration of anti-abortion opponents – the former president entered 2023 with undeniably weaker support among Republicans who have embraced his policies but appear increasingly open to fresh leadership atop their party.
And in the process of selecting a new speaker, Republicans have laid bare the difficulties that lie ahead for Trump as he navigates a presidential primary that is likely to grow crowded with former allies in the months to come.
After Trump voiced his forceful support for McCarthy in a post to Truth Social on Wednesday morning, a band of so-called “Never Kevin” Republicans remained unchanged in their defiance. One person familiar with his thinking said Trump thought his public pronouncement of support for McCarthy would have an impact – albeit a minimal one – on the stalled process, noting that the former president was surprised when none of the holdouts changed course.
In his post, Trump vigorously urged McCarthy’s fiercest opponents in the House GOP conference to “close the deal.”
“DO NOT TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT,” he declared, later adding that he supports Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, whose name had been placed in nomination by McCarthy opponents, but does not endorse him for the job of speaker.
“He will have his day, and it will be a big one, but not now!” Trump said of Donalds.
But within hours of reendorsing McCarthy’s speakership bid, it became clear that Trump’s pleas had fallen on deaf ears.
In one stunning moment on the House floor, far-right Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, a staunch Trump supporter, expressed frustration with the former president’s efforts to push her and other McCarthy holdouts to halt their antics.
“Let’s stop with the campaign smears and tactics to get people to turn against us – even having my favorite president call us and tell us to knock this off. I think it actually needs to be reversed and the [former] president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw,” Boebert said.
Hours earlier, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida had also flatly rejected Trump’s efforts to convince him and his fellow rebels to line up behind McCarthy. Dismissing Trump’s interference as “sad,” Gaetz told Fox News Digital that the former president’s pro-McCarthy declarations changed “neither my view of McCarthy nor Trump nor my vote.”
“If Matt Gaetz is ignoring you, that’s not a good sign,” said one Trump ally who is involved with his 2024 campaign.
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said a major “irritant” for Trump is “to be ignored,” suggesting the former president was likely annoyed by Boebert’s comments a day earlier.
“He has supported her in the past. I’m not sure he’ll continue to support her,” Zinke said.
Trump spent the earlier part of the week making calls on McCarthy’s behalf in an attempt to break the conservative blockade against him, this person said, but his efforts have proved fruitless. One lawmaker who spoke with Trump late Tuesday suggested that he should run for speaker himself while refusing to stop opposing McCarthy as Trump demurred and continued to push for this person’s support, according to a person briefed on the call. Trump repeatedly claimed that McCarthy would be a reliable supporter of his agenda and of a litany of investigations that he and several hardline conservatives have long eyed into the Biden family, Big Tech and other targets, this person said.
Trump’s failure to influence the band of McCarthy holdouts comes as he navigates an impending Republican presidential primary that is likely to place further scrutiny on his role inside the party.
While the former president has yet to draw any opponents, his lackluster campaign launch has led some Republican hopefuls and their allies to believe the path for an alternative candidate to secure the 2024 nomination might be easier than initially expected. Within weeks of declaring his candidacy, Trump had come under fire for hosting a dinner with rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and White supremacist Nick Fuentes, both of whom have documented records of making antisemitic comments. He has since drawn bipartisan condemnation for suggesting the Constitution be terminated to allow him to be reinstated as president, and likely alienated some of his staunchest religious supporters after criticizing abortion opponents for pressing the issue during the 2022 midterm elections.
“It wasn’t my fault that Republicans didn’t live up to expectations… It was the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters,” Trump wrote in a recent Truth Social post.
While Trump has held no campaign events since announcing his 2024 bid in November, he has made efforts to reach Republican voters with provocative policy proposals he would work to enact if elected to a non-consecutive second term, including firing government employees who have engaged in what he considers “censorship activities.”
On Thursday, with McCarthy’s future continuing to hang in the balance as additional rounds of voting unfolded on the House floor, Trump released a video outlining his plans to take on drug cartels and international drug traffickers if elected president once again. Among his proposals was urging Congress to enact death penalty laws against “drug smugglers and traffickers.”