On the final day of June, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave us an extraordinary display of what he and the Republican Party have become.
In McCarthy’s GOP, the attack on democracy is memory-holed, while a Fox News conspiracy theory is hyped.
On the same day that McCarthy voted against a committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection, he demanded an investigation into Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s paranoid and baseless charge that the National Security Agency was reading his emails.
And even as he continued to stand by a member of his caucus who was openly associating with neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, the GOP leader threatened to strip any Republicans of committee assignments if they accepted an appointment to the select committee.
His priorities could not have been clearer.
In McCarthy’s GOP, the attack on democracy is memory-holed, while a Fox News conspiracy theory is hyped. Bigots are tolerated, while truth-tellers are purged and bullied.
As it turned out, his attempt to intimidate Republicans who might cooperate with the probe backfired. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., to the committee, Cheney brushed aside McCarthy’s attempt at political blackmail. "It’s very clear to me, as I’ve said, my oath and my duty is above partisanship,” she said, “and I expect Leader McCarthy to have the same view.”
He did not. Instead, he sulked. “I was shocked that she would accept something from Speaker Pelosi,” McCarthy said. "It would seem to me, since I didn't hear from her, maybe she's closer to [Pelosi] than us. I don't know.” (Far from being close to Pelosi, Cheney actually has one of the most conservative voting records in Congress.)
It’s not clear whether the GOP leader intends to follow through with his threat. But whether he blinks or not, the episode serves as further evidence of the continuing unraveling of McCarthy’s tenure, which has been marked less by leadership than by his submissiveness to the demands of Trumpism.
Only two years ago, McCarthy and other GOP leaders were able to oust former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, from his committee assignments after a series of racist remarks.
That submissiveness has included the abandonment of even the semblance of concern about things such as racism or attacks on the democratic process.
It was not always this way.
Only two years ago, McCarthy and other GOP leaders were able to oust former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, from his committee assignments after a series of racist remarks, including an interview in which the veteran congressman mused: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
McCarthy, who was just weeks into his role as party leader, pushed back. “That is not the party of Lincoln and it’s definitely not American,” he said.
At the time, he portrayed himself as a man of action. “I’ve watched on the other side that they do not take action when their members say something like this. Action will be taken.” King was stripped of his positions and the disgraced congressman was defeated in the next GOP primary.
That was then. This week, McCarthy has been notably silent about the announcement that Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., was planning a fundraiser with a notorious Holocaust-denier named Nick Fuentes.
There is nothing ambiguous or subtle about Fuentes’ bigotry. As the conservative magazine National Review noted last week, “The media and the Left frequently cry wolf about bigotry, but there should be no doubt about Fuentes.”
In contrast to Fuentes, King’s comments now seem almost quaint.
Fuentes has joked about the Holocaust and questioned the number of Jews who were exterminated. “I’m getting really sick of world Jewry — that’s what it is! what it is! — running the show, and we can’t talk about it,” he declared in one video.
Fuentes has joked about the Holocaust and questioned the number of Jews who were exterminated.
Fuentes also opposes interracial marriage and explicitly defends racist Jim Crow laws. “Enough with the Jim Crow stuff,” he said in another video. “Who cares? Oh, they had to drink out of a different water fountain, big f------ deal. Oh no, they had to go to a different school. It’s better for them, it’s better for us.”
Gosar apparently has no problem with this. And McCarthy apparently has no problem with Gosar.
We’ve seen this song and dance before. Back in February, Gosar attended a conference sponsored by Fuentes and other white nationalists. McCarthy looked away then, just as he has repeatedly with the wild ravings of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.
There were no threats, no ultimatums, no action items. Under McCarthy’s leadership, the House GOP voted overwhelmingly against stripping Greene of her committee assignments.
Again, the contrast is stark and revealing.
McCarthy led the move to oust Cheney, who spoke the truth about then-President Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, from the ranks of the GOP leadership. He now threatens to strip her of her remaining committee assignments for agreeing to serve on a committee to investigate that attack.
But Greene and Gosar remain members of the GOP caucus in good standing.
Some critics have suggested that this indicates a double standard in the era of Trump. But that theory gives McCarthy too much credit, because he is actually a man of no standards at all.
The only real constant in McCarthy’s tenure has been a nihilistic pursuit of power, and an almost bottomless capacity to absorb humiliation in the service of Trump’s whims. Norms? Principles? For McCarthy, they are all expendable.
The House leader followed his caucus in supporting an absurdly bogus lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to overturn the election in swing states won by President Joe Biden. After a brief spasm of conscience in January, when he gave a speech holding Trump responsible for the riot, McCarthy dashed down to Mar-a-Lago to pay obeisance to the disgraced, defeated, twice-impeached ex-president.
Since then, he has been eager to prove his loyalty. This includes leading the efforts to derail investigations into the Trump-inspired insurrection. After killing a proposed independent, 9/11-style bipartisan commission, McCarthy ordered his caucus to vote this week against the House’s select committee. Only Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., refused.
And even that was not enough.
Speaking to reporters about McCarthy’s warning not to serve on the select committee, Kinzinger didn’t mince words. “Who gives a s---,” he told reporters.
“When you've got people that say crazy stuff and you're not going to make that threat, to make the threat to the truth-tellers, you've lost any credibility.”
And, in the end, Kinzinger’s question may be McCarthy’s political epitaph.