McCarthy: On second thought, I don't believe Trump provoked the attack on the Capitol

All right, in fairness, technically he’s never accused Trump of having “provoked” the attack at the rally on the morning of January 6.

But he did say the following on the House floor eight days ago.

Can you “bear responsibility” for an attack without having “provoked” it? I mean, I guess, but…

Today he said this. Feels like a climbdown, no?

He’s walking a fine line, absolving Trump for everything that happened before the riot — not just the rally that day but months of “stop the steal” messaging — while indicting him for not moving quickly enough to head it off once it had begun. That’s a position destined to please no one.

But maybe it’s the best McCarthy can do right now, having replaced Mike Pence as the Republican “pussy” whom Trump is most annoyed at. From three days ago:

He’s in a jam, not wanting to make an enduring enemy out of Trump after he spent so much time cultivating his friendship. That would leave an opening for a hardcore MAGA type like Jim Jordan to challenge him for Speaker in 2022. But he also doesn’t want to look weak by completely backing off of his criticism of Trump last week, especially knowing the sort of hit the former president’s job approval has taken in the weeks since the attack. This is the challenge of leading a caucus — you have to keep the base happy while also seizing opportunities to expand your appeal to the center. Evidently McCarthy’s decided that the way to do that in this case is to throw each side a bone with a little strained lawyerly logic about Trump’s culpability.

Sure, go ahead and blame the former president for what happened once the mob was in the building. But don’t you dare blame him for what happened beforehand.

There are other people to blame for that, after all.

Another important thing McCarthy said at this morning’s presser was reaffirming his support for Liz Cheney remaining as chair of the House Republican Conference. That too is a matter of basic caucus leadership. Having just witnessed an election in which 74 million people voted for Trump and 81 million people voted against him, McCarthy rightly figures that it can’t hurt having a token anti-Trumper in a leadership role to soothe suburbanites, assuring them that they’re welcome inside the big tent. Cheney also got a vote of confidence today from another powerful Republican in her home state of Wyoming:

Remember those reports from a few days ago about something like 120 House Republicans having signed a petition calling for Cheney’s ouster? As far as I know, that petition remains more rumor than fact; no one outside the caucus has seen it. According to the WSJ, the true number of GOPers who are willing to oust Cheney might be meaningfully lower:

GOP aides said this week it was unclear precisely how much support there was for the effort to remove Ms. Cheney from party leadership, with estimates ranging between 60 to over 100 House Republicans on board. The vote on the resolution would be conducted by secret ballot, making any count subject to lawmakers’ private feelings, rather than the need to make a political statement.

My not-very-hot take is that she’s going to hang on as conference chair only because Trump isn’t on Twitter anymore egging on House GOPers to dump her 15 times a day. People tend to behave more rationally when he’s not around to “provoke” them.

By the way, Cheney turned up on Fox News this morning for a mildly awkward interview about her current predicament and the outlook for House Republicans under Biden. Clearly she was hoping to use the time to complain about Biden’s first-day executive orders, a way for her to show some tribal loyalty to angry conservative viewers. Just as clearly, she did not want to dwell on her impeachment vote, even declining to offer an opinion on what the Senate should do with Trump’s trial. All she offered was some vague references to doing one’s constitutional duty and making sure that an attack like the one on January 6 never happens again. She did the right thing last week annnnnd now she never wants to talk about it again.