IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump could’ve tried to rescue Kevin McCarthy. We may now know why he didn't.

Why did Trump sit on his hands as McCarthy lost his House speaker's gavel? New reporting appears to shed light on the behind-the-scenes details.


In late July, Politico reported that Donald Trump and then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy spoke regularly, and there was one subject the former president brought up “in every call.”

The focus of Trump’s preoccupation was a series of votes he wanted to see on the House floor: He wanted McCarthy to bring up resolutions that would “expunge” the former president’s impeachments.

We now know, of course, that there were no such votes — though McCarthy offered some public support for the idea, and floor action was a distinct possibility. Did this have anything to do with Trump’s silence as McCarthy’s grip on the speaker’s gavel slipped away?

It would seem so. The Washington Post reported on a previously undisclosed phone conversation between the two Republicans:

During a phone call with McCarthy weeks after his historic Oct. 3 removal as House speaker, Trump detailed the reasons he had declined to ask Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and other hard-right lawmakers to back off their campaign to oust the California Republican from his leadership position. ... During the call, Trump lambasted McCarthy for not expunging his two impeachments and endorse him in the 2024 presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the conversation.

“F--- you," McCarthy claimed to have told the former president, the Post reported, according to people familiar with the matter.

Some caveats are in order. For one thing, the reporting has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News. For another, McCarthy might very well have told associates that he gave Trump a piece of his mind, but whether the California congressman was as tough as he claimed remains an open question.

A McCarthy spokesperson told the Post that he did not swear at Trump. A Trump spokesperson declined to comment.

But if the Post’s reporting is accurate, it sheds light on a notable perspective.

McCarthy went to amazing lengths to curry favor with Trump — the Starbursts story remains one of my favorites — and during his term, the then-president was so appreciative of the fawning attention that he referred to the future House speaker as “my Kevin.”

As we’ve discussed, McCarthy not only spent Trump’s White House tenure trying to make him happy, he maintained those efforts even after Trump’s defeat, effectively putting the former president in the role of “shadow speaker.”

After McCarthy took the gavel in January, he celebrated Trump. After Trump’s first criminal indictment, McCarthy condemned the charges despite not knowing what they were. After Trump’s first federal criminal indictment, McCarthy was so eager to defend the former president that the then-speaker embarrassed himself with odd comments about bathroom locks.

It stands to reason that the former GOP leader thought by showing Trump such effusive loyalty, McCarthy would eventually be able to enjoy the dividends of his political investments.

Except, that’s not how things work with Trump. As others have learned over time, the former president sees loyalty as something he’s supposed to receive, not bestow. McCarthy didn’t undo the former president’s impeachments, and it seems that prompted Trump to sit on his hands as the then-speaker was kicked out of his office.

Let this be a lesson to others in Republican politics who are counting on Trump to deliver when it counts.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.