Jan 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Kevin McCarthy's fight for survival

A photo illustration of Kevin McCarthy with embers around him

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is under siege, raising challenges to his best-laid plans for becoming House speaker.

Why it matters: The California Republican had been ready to vault out of the minority at the 2022 midterms. But now he finds his fundraising challenged, his links to President Trump toxic and a tricky impeachment environment to navigate.

The big picture: While some in the House Republican caucus broke ranks with Trump following his incitement of last week's assault, that's no easy feat for McCarthy.

  • He, more than any other Republican leader, has personally tied himself to Donald Trump during the past four years.
  • A huge part of his success as House minority leader has been because Trump — who has dotingly referred to him as “my Kevin” — and his base have had his back.

McCarthy also faces challenges in his role as the rainmaker for House Republicans.

  • Big corporations and trade associations like Marriott and Blue Cross Blue Shield are abandoning the GOP after Republicans rejected the election results.
  • Facebook, BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase have halted all political spending.

What we’re hearing: McCarthy and his team are worried because the sprint to the midterms begins now. Nonetheless, they think they have enough time to reset their image and get the party and its funding streams back on track.

  • His goal is to work on uniting the separate factions and reframe the narrative. Corporations operate on the “show-me, not tell-me” policy, one aide said, and McCarthy can restore the money spigot with results.

What they’re saying: “Leader McCarthy’s team has spoken to a vast number of businesses over the last 24 hours to take their temperature. Most of the businesses have assured that they have no plans to back away from the party and its free-enterprise principles,” a McCarthy aide told Axios.

Between the lines: There's a lot of internal angst in the party. How McCarthy navigates this post-Trump world — and bridges the intra-party divide — will be crucial to his viability.

  • A first test was a conference call McCarthy held with his members this afternoon.
  • A second comes later this week when the House votes on impeachment. Republican leadership expects their conference to be split.

Be smart: While top Republicans say McCarthy doesn't face internal pressure, potential challengers like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) are circling.

  • Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, has a vast fundraising network and still holds sway with establishment Republicans.
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