He’s had complicated feelings about this subject over time. Two days after the election, he was sure Trump had won.
.@GOPLeader Kevin McCarthy was laying the groundwork for the attack on the Capitol for months. 11/5/2020:
“President Trump won this election, so everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes… join together and let’s stop this.” pic.twitter.com/9Ys6elhUln
— Jesse Lee (@JesseCharlesLee) January 12, 2021
A week later he had evolved:
On 11/12/20, I asked McCarthy what, in his view, were the biggest factors in Biden's win. McCarthy's top three reasons laid blame squarely w/ Trump:
1) Attacking McCain – hurt in AZ
2) Bad performance in the first debate
3) Trashing mail-in voting
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) May 12, 2021
Wasserman has said elsewhere that when he asked McCarthy at the time if Trump’s refusal to concede would be dangerous for the country, McCarthy replied, “Maybe.” A week after the insurrection, on the day Trump was impeached, he said this:
McCarthy, who has backed Trump at every turn, now says “let’s be clear — Joe Biden will be sworn in as president in one week because he was the election.” pic.twitter.com/900ur0fD1J
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 13, 2021
That was the high-water mark of McCarthy contradicting the “stop the steal” message, uttered at a moment when it seemed possible that the Republican base might leave Trump behind in the aftermath of the insurrection. When McCarthy realized that they wouldn’t, he sought to re-ingratiate himself to Trump by visiting him at Mar-a-Lago and ultimately moved to push Liz Cheney out of leadership after she refused to stop speaking out.
But Cheney’s deliberate martyrdom has already paid a dividend, giving the media a new excuse to press top Republicans like McCarthy with questions about the election and putting pressure on them to answer the right way, even if it displeases Trump. From this afternoon’s presser following a meeting with Biden:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, hours after ousting Rep. Liz Cheney from leadership: "I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. That's all over with. We are sitting here with the president today." pic.twitter.com/VK0aohLipa
— The Recount (@therecount) May 12, 2021
There is somebody questioning the legitimacy of the election, as McCarthy knows. That person happens to be the universally recognized leader of the GOP. His latest thoughts about it were published just two days ago:
The major Michigan Election Fraud case has just filed a bombshell pleading claiming votes were intentionally switched from President Trump to Joe Biden. The number of votes is MASSIVE and determinative. This will prove true in numerous other States. All Republicans must UNIFY and not let this happen. If a thief robs a jewelry store of all of its diamonds (the 2020 Presidential Election), the diamonds must be returned. The Fake News media refuses to cover the greatest Election Fraud in the history of our Country. They have lost all credibility, but ultimately, they will have no choice!
According to CNN’s most recent poll, more than two-thirds of Republicans agree with Trump that he was cheated out of a rightful victory:
Last week Cheney’s replacement-in-waiting confirmed that she supports the ongoing Arizona senate ballot audit that aims to overturn Biden’s victory in that state. Meanwhile, a new Morning Consult poll also confirms that most Republicans agree with the decision to oust Cheney from leadership, no doubt because she insists on contradicting Trump by claiming that Biden won the election fairly:
— Morning Consult (@MorningConsult) May 12, 2021
The hard reality for McCarthy is the opposite of what he told reporters today. Most Republicans question the legitimacy of the election, Trump and his supporters in populist media foremost among them. The only reason he’s still in charge of the caucus is because he refuses to be more assertive, as Cheney has, in insisting upon the truth. But he may have no choice. The more Cheney speaks out to contradict Trump, the more McCarthy, Scalise, McConnell, and others will be pressed to say which of the two they agree with. If they refuse, their ambivalence will itself be taken as proof that the party institutionally remains uncertain whether Biden’s victory was legitimate or not. What Cheney’s trying to do with her kamikaze action is to get them to choose one way or another, believing that whatever choice they make will be clarifying. If they side with her in vouching for Biden’s win, great. That’ll steer the GOP away from attempting to overturn the 2024 election if they lose that one too. If they side with Trump, that’s less great but also useful in that it’ll show swing voters that they stand with conspiracy theorists. Clarity either way.