A month ago, if anyone had suggested former President Donald Trump would give a ringing endorsement to the California congressman who has been the House GOP leader for four years, we’d just yawn and say, “OK, I guess he’ll be speaker then.”
Then after the House convened in January, 20 Republicans opposed McCarthy. Many of those McCarthy opponents might well be categorized as MAGA Republicans.
So maybe they just needed a gentle reminder who Donald Trump was supporting in the race for Speaker of the House. After McCarthy lost the third vote, Trump jumped on Truth Social.
“Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY,” Trump said. “REPUBLICANS, DO NOT TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT. IT’S TIME TO CELEBRATE, YOU DESERVE IT. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB – JUST WATCH!”
The 45th president spoke. Crisis averted and a fourth vote would be the charm for McCarthy’s dreams for the Speakership. Right?
Except it didn’t move the needle one iota. More rounds of voting continued and some of the staunchest Trump allies such as Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Lauren Boebert of Colorado just dug their heels in more—voting against McCarthy for multiple rounds.
Has Donald Trump lost his influence over the Republicans?
Certainly since 2015, we’ve been hearing, “he’s really done himself in this time, end of the ride politically.” Then Trump won the GOP nomination and the White House.
During his presidency, at least the perception was that many elected Republicans didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Trump for fear of getting primaried. Or if not primaried, just a depressed MAGA base in the general election.
There is good evidence to that. Donald Trump boasts about a “233-20” record for 2022 in victorious endorsed candidate, presumably a reference to both primaries and general election contests. I’m not sure that number has been verified. But the fact that I haven’t seen CNN and PolitiFact engage in public meltdowns that such an exaggeration poses an existential threat to democracy leads me to think it could be at least close to accurate.
Those midterm primaries were important interparty struggles, but so is a speaker’s race. Donald Trump apparently doesn’t have the same Midas touch among House members (some who he helped elect). After Trump’s endorsement of McCarthy, plenty of House Republicans just said, thanks, duly noted.
Trump’s lowest point in post-presidency endorsements was clearly backing former Sen. David Purdue’s challenge against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Kemp won the primary in a landslide.
But in some ways, this is worse. Purdue–despite having been a Senator–was outgunned by Kemp and wasn’t really expected to win. McCarthy had everything in his favor and struggled mightily but did eventually prevail.
What does this say about a Trump vs. Ron DeSantis showdown?
This might just be a thought exercise. Maybe Donald Trump will again breeze through the primaries, baffling the establishment, and again stun the nation with a November victory.
Or maybe, it’s just difficult to take up the anti-establishment mantle when you’ve been president of the United States.
The speaker fight seems to have shown his waning influence over other elected officials that always seemed to be in his camp.
Since leaving office, the presumption was that it’s Trump’s party and he could be a kingmaker in almost any circumstance–at least the big ones that matter. The House speaker drama certainly shows that’s no longer the case.
Barbara Joanna Lucas is a writer and researcher in Northern Virginia. She has been a healthcare professional, political blogger, is a proud dog mom, and news junkie. Follow her on Twitter @BasiaJL.