Here’s how the two scenarios could play out:
If Republicans hang on, the conference would likely be giddy after escaping death, and McCarthy will get credit. He’s known as an operator who can get things done — exactly what the new, certainly slimmer majority will need.
If Democrats get the gavel, all McCarthy has to do for minority leader is win more than half the conference in a secret ballot that doesn’t need to be ratified on the House floor. There’s a school of thought that he could be challenged by someone who promises to be a political disrupter — a polemicist who can function largely as a cable-TV conservative. McCarthy would have to lay out why members should stick with him after a crushing loss. But members are unlikely to blame him, insiders say. And I’m told members would see McCarthy as “a path back” to the majority, on policy and politics.