Kevin McCarthy

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Kevin McCarthy slaps himself silly after meeting Donald Trump.

Kevin Owen McCarthy (born January 26, 1965) is a name pregnant with political connections. He so much wanted to be Speaker of the House of Representatives that no humiliation was too low for him to crawl under. McCarthy could have been a Study of Bravery. Instead, he was a Nightmare of Knavery.

The only time he showed any hint of a backbone was when Donald Trump's MAGA mob ran amok in Congress on January 6th, 2021. "Call your people off!" he said once; also, "This looks bad!" However, when he discovered that other Republicans were still backing Big Orange, he jetted off to Florida to bend the knee and take the photo opportunity offered by Trump.


Kevin was a poster child.

Born in 1965 in the oil town of Bakersfield, California, McCarthy's oily political background was in the Democratic Party, like both his parents. However, McCarthy eventually slipped over to the Republicans. California Republicans tend to be old-style money-equals-power statesmen, for whom the first job is always to guard the stash. Unlike Republicans in other states, a staunch conservative in California meets the same fate as a cat with curiosity.[1] This informed McCarthy's politics; he is best described as a "moderate", not fueled by religious views about abortion or even same-sex marriage.


McCarthy got his paws on political office in the early 2000s, when he was elected to the State Assembly. Though the Democratic Party dominated state politics, the Republicans had won the governor's office in the muscular shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Despite his tough-guy image, Schwarzenegger turned out to be a centrist. McCarthy benefitted and was elected in 2006 to the House of Representatives in California's 20th District. His grey-haired smoothness and California twang became regular fare on TV shows such as Meet the Press and Face the Nation. He was a Republican who was civil toward his political opponents. But, as he was to discover, his real enemies were his nominal allies.

Gavel envy[edit]

This herd does the most meowing.

Those who say that managing House Republicans is like herding cats ignore that there are in fact two herds:[2] Republicans (pictured) adamant about wrenching America back to its Founding principles (and willing to tolerate horse manure on the Interstates); and Republicans adamant about reassuring their big campaign contributors that bundling a mere $100,000 in donations will get you at least $10 billion in earmarked government contracts. McCarthy seemed ideal to bridge this gap. He said all the right things — managing the writing of the 2008 GOP convention platform — but he was very good at fundraising.

In 2010, McCarthy became Majority Wimp — the #3 in the party hierarchy behind Speaker John Boehner and Eric Cantor. In 2014, McCarthy became #2 (Majority Leader) after Cantor finished #2 in his own Republican primary. In 2015, Boehner too left for greener pastures and said McCarthy "would make an excellent Speaker" despite being the youngest and least experienced Speaker in over a century. However, in October, McCarthy dropped out of the race, saying Republicans needed "a fresh face" to unite them. Paul Ryan became Speaker and did unite them, with the possible exception of President Trump.

In 2018, Americans greeted two years under Trump in the usual way — by decimating his allies in Congress. Ryan fell on his sword but Democrat Nancy Pelosi got the hammer, as McCarthy's #1 was now Minority Leader. In that role, he asserted that Trump won the 2020 election despite a nagging shortage of Electoral Votes. January 2021 was a masterpiece of fence-straddling, as McCarthy joined several lawsuits claiming election fraud, but refused to vote to decertify Joe Biden's victory as a mob of Trumpsters approached in the hallway, and finally accused Trump of incitement and talked about using the 25th Amendment in case Trump still clung to his desk fourteen days later.

In 2022, Americans gave President Joe Biden the same Bronx cheer they had given Trump four years earlier: Republicans retook the House and McCarthy was finally in line to get the gavel, though his face was seven years less "fresh".

Back me![edit]

McCarthy treated the gavel like a baby with a brand-new rattle. Photo from Greene's phone, just before she ran away.

However, standing between McCarthy and the gavel he coveted were members of the Republican Caucus. The ultra-Trumpists demanded that McCarthy promise to fill the Rio Grande with crocodiles and train coyotes to attack migrants digging under fences. Oh, and install three of their own on the crucial Rules Committee. Twenty-odd Republicans refused to back McCarthy. Finally, they became flexible on the crocodiles — alligators would be a compromise. On the fifteenth ballot, McCarthy was Speaker.

McCarthy had made one other fateful concession to the far-right: allowing a single member to move to Vacate the Chair and invoke weeks of the chaos that the House had just undergone. As it was a hundred years ago (when Representatives valued decorum too much to actually pull the pin on that grenade).

McCarthy mounted the GOP elephant despite a likely rough ride. He ignored phone calls from Ukraine begging for arms to fight the Russians. Instead, he enlisted Trump's support against the House Trumpsters, giving the ex-President hours of film footage from the January 6th Capitol riot, dubbed with a soundtrack from Wagner.


A vacated chair

Far-right House members suspected that McCarthy was loud on promises but had quietly done nothing of value for them. He even conferred with Democrats, including President Joe Biden and Senate leader Chuck Schumer. That and not slashing government spending meant McCarthy was doomed. In October 2023, the MAGA Caucus indeed moved to Vacate the Chair. McCarthy's Democratic lunch dates did not cut loose a couple dozen votes to save him — only watched and snickered. McCarthy lost his gavel. He was told to vacate the office of speaker and give back the keys.

Future prospects[edit]

McCarthy may have suspected that Nancy Pelosi whipped Democrats to sit on their hands during the drama, from her luxurious office as Immediate Past Speaker. Mysteriously, her file cabinets and telephones were transferred to more modest accommodations in the Capitol basement next to the boiler room.

Whether McCarthy engineered that final move, all his remaining grudges were directed against Republicans. McCarthy followed in the path of Newt Gingrich, declaring that, if he couldn't run the game, he wouldn't play. McCarthy further set out to fix it so that no one else could run the game either; his resignation made the Republican House majority even more razor-thin. In 2024, McCarthy visited the Florida district of Matt Gaetz, rallying Gaetz's voters to deny Gaetz renomination.

McCarthy's Speakership was the shortest in a century that did not involve bullets.[3] Back in California, outside government but with ample name recognition, McCarthy tried to forge a career as a political pundit or book author. Unfortunately, no one seemed interested in anything he said.


  1. Namely, political death with no progeny.
  2. By comparison, Democrats are a single herd, focused on a single goal: Lifetime sinecures for them and all their sign-carriers.
  3. Not indeed as short as Liz Truss's cup of coffee at 10 Downing Street in the U.K., but short enough to lift some of the embarrassment from her shoulders.