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Among Republicans, Trump appears to play the role of shadow speaker

The result is a picture in which Kevin McCarthy, already widely seen as an unusually weak speaker, appears even smaller in stature.


After Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020, many of the former president’s Republican allies had an idea about his ideal next job: They wanted him to become speaker of the House.

In fact, throughout 2021, a variety of prominent GOP voices — former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, et al. — seemed to take this quite seriously, repeatedly and publicly raising the possibility of Trump becoming Congress’ top member after the 2022 midterm elections.

The good news for Kevin McCarthy is that the former president ultimately bowed out of consideration, making it possible for the California Republican to, with some difficulty, claim the speaker’s gavel. The bad news for McCarthy is that while Trump isn’t the actual speaker, he often seems to play the role of shadow speaker. The New York Times reported on Wednesday, for example:

Over the past several months, Mr. Trump has kept a close watch on House Republicans’ momentum toward impeaching Mr. Biden. Mr. Trump has talked regularly by phone with members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus and other congressional Republicans who pushed for impeachment, according to a person close to Mr. Trump who was not authorized to publicly discuss the conversations. Mr. Trump has encouraged the effort both privately and publicly.

The same report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, highlighted recent instances in which Trump spoke to House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia about the launch of an impeachment inquiry. In fact, there were multiple reports on Wednesday that the former president spoke with Stefanik, shortly after McCarthy announced the start of the impeachment inquiry.

For now, let’s put aside the question of whether Trump is coordinating with allied lawmakers about impeaching his likely 2024 rival. Instead, let’s consider the familiarity of the circumstances.

In July, for example, NBC News reported on Trump working with McCarthy and Stefanik on congressional Republican messaging on his first federal criminal indictment. A related New York Times report added that, as part of his conversation with Stefanik, “the former president lingered on the line as they discussed ways to use the Republican-led House committees to try to attack the investigations.”

Around the same time, a CNN report also noted that Trump and Stefanik went over how she could “use her role” on the conspiratorial “weaponization” committee to advance the former president’s interests.

So, on the one hand, we see a scandal-plagued former president accused of committing felonies. On the other, we also see the same Republican reportedly coordinating with his party’s congressional leaders on tactics, messaging and committee work.

The result is a picture in which McCarthy, already widely seen as an unusually weak speaker, appears even smaller in stature, while Trump, who has long perceived his partisan allies on Capitol Hill as employees, is seen helping run the House GOP’s show.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.