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As McCarthy struggles, Trump offers uneven support

Kevin McCarthy can use all of the help he can get. Donald Trump’s off-again, on-again backing isn’t making his path any easier.


UPDATE (Jan. 4, 2022, 9:18 a.m. ET): This post has been updated to include former President Donald Trump's statement on Wednesday about the House speaker race.

As House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepared to leave Capitol Hill last night, he conceded to reporters that yesterday was not the day he “wanted to have.” After three failed attempts to get elected speaker, the acknowledgement was an obvious understatement.

But the Californian also told reporters that he’d spoken with Donald Trump, and the former president reiterated his support for his candidacy and encouraged McCarthy to stay in the race.

As NBC News reported, however, Trump was more circumspect during an on-the-record interview.

Former President Donald Trump, who had endorsed Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid for House speaker, declined to say Tuesday whether he still supports his longtime ally after McCarthy, R-Calif., failed to clinch the job in three consecutive votes.

Asked directly whether he was sticking with McCarthy, Trump told NBC News, “We’ll see what happens.”

The former president added, “I got everybody calling me wanting my support. But let’s see what happens and we’ll go — I got everybody calling, wanting my support. That’s all I can say. But we’ll see what happens. We’ll see how it all works out.”

It would’ve been easy for the Republican to say, “I still support Kevin McCarthy and encourage all House Republicans to elect him speaker.” At least as of yesterday afternoon, that’s clearly not what he said.

Indeed, eight weeks ago, Trump offered McCarthy an unambiguous endorsement during a Fox News interview. A month later, The New York Times reported that the former president was “working the phones, personally pitching right-wing lawmakers” on voting to elevate McCarthy to speaker.

Yesterday afternoon, however, Trump was reduced to, “We’ll see what happens.”

A few hours later, by way of his social media platform, he complained about “unnecessary turmoil” in Republican politics, but for reasons he didn’t explain, the former president blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, Elaine Chao, who also served in Trump’s cabinet.

This morning, former president switched gears again, publishing another missive, which read in part, “[I]t’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY, & WATCH CRAZY NANCY PELOSI FLY BACK HOME TO A VERY BROKEN CALIFORNIA.”

For the record, Pelosi will remain in the House no matter who’s elected speaker.

Regardless, what McCarthy needs is sustained and steadfast loyalty from the former president, who's instead extending off-again, on-again support for the congressman he used to describe as “my Kevin.”

Ahead of the fourth round of balloting this afternoon, it's likely that both McCarthy's supporters and his opponents will put Trump's words to use — which only makes the would-be speaker's path that much more complicated.