Does this help McCarthy at all in locking up the last few Republican votes he needs to ensure victory when the whole House votes later this month? Reportedly he’s got 200 or so in the bank, but he can’t get to 218 without help from a few members of the conservative Freedom Caucus. The knock on him within that group is that, as Boehner’s right-hand man, he’d represent business as usual in Washington as Speaker. Earning the support of the last Republican VP doesn’t undermine that criticism. On the contrary.

Another weird thing about this: McCarthy had served a grand total of one term in Congress when Cheney left office in 2009. It’s not like he was an indispensable Bush ally in the House.

“We are in one of the most difficult and challenging periods of our history. It is more important than ever that we have strong conservative leadership in the House of Representatives.

“I’ve known Kevin McCarthy for many years. He is a good man and a strong leader. As a man of the House and a former member of the House leadership, I know that Kevin McCarthy is the person we need as Speaker in these dangerous and important times. Chaos is on the rise abroad. Russia is exploiting this administration’s weakness, radical Islam is gaining strength, the Middle East is falling apart, and China is asserting its authority in the absence of American strength. The Obama administration has done enormous damage to our military capability and to our relationships with key allies around the world.

“Especially when the President refuses to lead, Congress needs to step up to provide for our national defense in support of American power. Kevin McCarthy is the man who can provide that leadership.”

I think this is less about Cheney wanting to do McCarthy a solid than wanting to undermine his opponents, who include some of the House’s loudest anti-interventionist voices. Walter Jones, a rare example of a Republican who’s repudiated his vote for the Iraq war, has criticized the idea of replacing Boehner with McCarthy as a “swap with no benefits.” Justin Amash and Thomas Massie, both libertarians and allies of Cheney nemesis Rand Paul, have declared McCarthy unacceptable. Cheney probably figures that if McCarthy ends up being blocked, it’ll embolden the doves in the House and give them some leverage over whoever ends up being the compromise choice for Speaker. At a bare minimum, the more power that the small-government types in the Freedom Caucus amass, the greater the risk potentially to defense spending. Cheney’s just protecting his hawkish interests here.

Which brings us back to the big question: What would McCarthy be willing to give the Freedom Caucus to get them to swing behind him and avoid a floor fight? Yesterday FC member Mick Mulvaney suggested that greater conservative representation on the Steering Committee would help. Here’s another idea, courtesy of the Hill:

With the math working against McCarthy, some conservative leaders are reviving the idea of brokering a deal and forging a coalition with the GOP leader: A bloc of conservatives would throw their support to McCarthy on the House floor, pushing him over 218. In return, McCarthy would back one of the conservatives, such as [Freedom Caucus chair Jim] Jordan, to replace him as majority leader…

Mulvaney called the idea of a conservative coalition with McCarthy “something that is still on the table.”…

[S]ome Jordan allies say they could see a scenario where the former Republican Study Committee (RSC) chairman would reluctantly run for the No. 2 job. Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), two other past RSC chairmen, are already running hard for majority leader, but there’s dissatisfaction among some conservatives with the current choices.

That would line Jordan up to be the next Speaker once McCarthy either retires or is forced out, and having Jordan waiting in the wings would give House conservatives a lot of incentive to force him out. That’ll be when the true schism comes, I take it, with Republican centrists refusing to bow to the choice of a minority of the caucus after they pushed out not one but two of their guys. That’s a matter for the future, though. What I want to now is what happens right now if the Freedom Caucus makes some sort of deal with McCarthy and then Boehner jams through a bunch of big compromises with Democrats in his last few weeks, including a debt-ceiling hike. McCarthy will feign opposition, but everyone understands that that’s just theater. Will a deal between him and conservatives survive a move like that by Boehner or will righties hold McCarthy responsible?