Are we sure Kevin McCarthy is going to be Speaker next year?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

I’m 100 percent sure that Republicans will have a House majority. And around 80 percent sure it’ll be on the order of a 50-seat advantage.

What I’m asking is, will Kevin McCarthy be the leader of that majority?

Normally I’m at 60/40 on that subject. But after watching this … maybe 51/49?

That certainly was a firm, assertive clarification!

Having Trump and the populist caucus thwart McCarthy’s Speakership dreams would be a rare feelgood moment of unity for Trumpers and anti-Trumpers. Trumpers have no use for him, as there are dozens of more authentically MAGA members to choose from in the House. Anti-Trumpers despise him for groveling to Trump before the insurrection and then again after. Nothing would be more satisfying than watching McCarthy torch every last bit of his integrity in the pursuit of power only to have it snatched from him on the cusp of attaining it.

But I continue to think he’s going to end up with the job, mostly because no one else wants it. If you were Jim Jordan, how would you prefer to spend the next two years? Raising hell during committee hearings and doing Fox News hits? Or huddling with aides over the legislative calendar, figuring out when the latest bill to rename post offices should hit the floor?

Plus, as MAGA as Jordan may be at heart, I think he probably understands that it would be best for the GOP’s national prospects if its congressional leaders weren’t ostentatiously MAGA. They need a semi-respectable face to present to those suburban swing voters who broke hard for Biden two years ago. A mild-mannered Californian as Speaker says “big tent” to undecideds better than a populist bombthrower would.

Back up, though. What has Kevin McCarthy done to alienate Trump after working so hard since mid-January 2021 to get back in his good graces? I doubt Trump is mad about the post-insurrection audio revealed by reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, in which McCarthy was hear telling Republican members at the time that he thought Trump should resign. “I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” Trump said of the audio after it emerged in April. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.” He loves when people criticize him and then come crawling back, and there’s no more pathetic example of that than McCarthy. (Except Nikki Haley?)

Weirdly, it was a liberal columnist who put his finger on what’s bugging Trump in a piece published a few days ago. E.J. Dionne:

In a perverse way, the country owes a debt to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). He made this refreshing presentation possible. In an astonishingly foolish decision, McCarthy withdrew all his appointees to the committee after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected two of his five nominees. She refused to seat Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) because they actively spread disinformation about 2020 — and because Jordan was closely involved in Trump’s efforts to challenge the election…

With none of his allies there to throw sand into the gears, the committee — which still included two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — was able to organize a seamless presentation. Cheney has played a star role, and mostly Republican witnesses are telling the story.

That fact is often overlooked when Republicans complain about the partisan slant of the committee. “Pelosi blocked McCarthy’s nominees!” Not true — she blocked two of his nominees, Jordan and Banks, but she accepted Troy Nehls, Rodney Davis, and Kelly Armstrong. McCarthy then rescinded their nominations to protest her decision to bar Jordan and Banks. There was strategic logic to that at the time, as a committee comprised entirely of Democrats would have been easy for Republicans to discredit. It would have been a pure case of one party investigating the other. Partisan witch hunt!

The sand in the gears of McCarthy’s scheme were Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. House GOPers can claim all they want that those two aren’t “real” Republicans anymore but most Americans will have a hard time believing that Dick Cheney’s daughter is now a closet liberal after being one of the most conservative members of the House for years. The Dems on the committee have been shrewd in leveraging her image too, making her the vice chair and giving her frequent speaking roles before the camera instead of treating her as a token member.

Result: Dems get to say the committee is bipartisan while Republicans lack any meaningful internal opposition on the committee to gum up the works. That wouldn’t have happened if McCarthy had let Nehls, Davis, and Armstrong take their seats. It was a strategic misplay.

And Trump knows it.

“Republicans mostly blame Pelosi for not allowing McCarthy to seat the members to whom she objected,” Maggie Haberman relayed recently. “But, privately, some Republicans are angry with him, believing he walked away too soon and could have had input on all of it had he negotiated names.” It makes sense that that’s an especially sore spot for Trump, who allegedly complained often while in office when he felt that not enough Republicans were defending him from Democratic attacks. He and the MAGA caucus have tried to counterprogram the January 6 hearings as best they can, but doing cable news interviews after the hearings end is a world of difference from having seats on the committee and challenging its allegations in real time, before a national audience.

In practice, it’s a third impeachment trial for Trump with no one providing a defense. McCarthy blundered strategically and so now the country is getting an account of the “stop the steal” effort constructed entirely by anti-Trumpers. I wonder if the pro-Jordan wing of the caucus is whispering in Trump’s ear lately that Republicans can’t afford more blunders like that once they’re back in power next year.