Man, this is tough stuff from an influential conservative at a moment when McCarthy’s desperately trying to convince righties in the House to give him a chance as Speaker.

“I heard from him at 6 a.m. the next morning,” Gowdy told the Post on Tuesday when asked about McCarthy. “How many times can somebody apologize? Yes, he’s apologized as many times as a human can apologize. It doesn’t change it. It doesn’t fix it. The only thing you can say is, instead of listening to someone else’s words, why don’t you look at our actions?”…

According to the Post, Gowdy trailed off while discussing forgiveness:

“Kevin is a friend, which makes the disappointment, frankly, even more bitter. If faith tells you to forgive somebody…” Gowdy trails off. “It’s tough,” he says after a moment. “People should go by what we’ve done. How many people have we interviewed? How many of those people have been named Clinton?”

Gowdy told the Post that he has spoken to some of the Democrats who voted to form the Benghazi committee “because what Kevin said put them in an incredibly bad position.”

As the chairman of the Benghazi committee, Gowdy’s the one guy more than any other who could have absolved McCarthy of his gaffe. No dice. Which raises the question: Does McCarthy have the votes to win the Speaker election? And if he doesn’t, er, who does?

Democrats are expected to back their own choice, probably Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, meaning a Republican would need 218 GOP votes to win. Assuming the Freedom Caucus sticks together and opposes Mr. McCarthy, it could force a deadlock. If he didn’t win the majority of members voting for a speaker, the voting would be repeated. That would be a painful rebuke to him, though he has expressed confidence in his ability to win…

For the Freedom Caucus to take a formal position in the speaker race and endorse a particular candidate, under its own rules, 80% of its members would have to agree. So far, it appears unlikely Mr. McCarthy could reach that level of support. Some members say they are getting calls from constituents urging a vote against Mr. McCarthy, and others express more favorable views about Mr. Webster.

“If 80% of HFC support McCarthy, then the group probably should be disbanded,” Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.) tweeted this week. “I’m not worried about that happening.”

If the Freedom Caucus balks at McCarthy then he can’t get to 218 — at least on the first ballot. The House would vote again, and again and again and again if need be, although the public humiliation to the GOP caucus generally and to McCarthy specifically if they kept getting deadlocked would wear down the resolve of one side or the other quickly, I think. (Or rather, I hope: Boehner’s apparently prepared to stay on for as long as it takes until a new Speaker is chosen.) Either McCarthy would drop out or members of the Freedom Caucus would defect and help elect him. And once McCarthy’s gone, the caucus will quickly move towards … Jason Chaffetz? I doubt it: McCarthy loyalists might not want to reward a guy who jumped in to the Speaker’s race in hopes of thwarting him. It might require a dark horse who’s acceptable to both sides, like Gowdy himself, being drafted for Speaker to resolve the stalemate. Or maybe this is all just gamesmanship by the Freedom Caucus to increase its leverage. When the Atlantic asked GOP Rep. and Freedom Caucus member Mick Mulvaney if they’d commit to support McCarthy, Mulvaney told them it depends. The FC wants seats on the Steering Committee, which determines the make-up of other House committees, to make sure that conservatives have some influence over the workings of the House. If McCarthy is prepared to give them that, plus some other “process reforms,” perhaps an … understanding can be reached. So that’s probably what’ll happen.

Via Mediaite, here’s Gowdy defending the Benghazi committee this morning on MSNBC. Exit question: If it looks like McCarthy doesn’t have the votes on the first ballot, why would House Democrats vote for Pelosi for Speaker when they could vote for McCarthy instead? Pelosi can’t win even if she ends up with more votes than McCarthy gets; it takes an absolute majority of 218 to choose a Speaker and Democrats are far, far short of that. In that case, logic suggests that they should push McCarthy over the top if he’s in trouble. If he falls short, there’s a risk that he’ll drop out and that the eventual Speaker will be further to the right than he is. He’s the Dems’ best chance to replace Boehner with another centrist while sowing discord among House Republicans by elevating McCarthy to the throne with left-wing votes.