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Image: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy Holds Weekly Press Conference
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Ca., speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill on Dec. 12, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Why it matters that McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring

Earlier this month, several Republican leaders started imagining in earnest a post-Trump GOP. That's over now.


Earlier this month, several Republican leaders started imagining in earnest a post-Trump GOP. By most measures, they didn't have much of a choice: as Donald Trump exited the White House, he was defeated, unpopular, overwhelmed by scandal, and largely responsible for leaving his party with no access to the levers of federal power.

On Jan. 6, Trump's standing reached new depths, as he sought to overturn election results by dispatching a violent mob to launch a deadly insurrectionist attack on his own country's Capitol.

Soon after, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took unsubtle steps to make clear he was done with Trump. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) conceded that Trump "bears responsibility" for the riot. House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) joined nine of her GOP colleagues in voting to impeach Trump in the most bipartisan presidential impeachment vote in American history.

That was earlier this month. This was yesterday.

Two weeks after Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, enraged Donald J. Trump by saying that he considered the former president responsible for the violent mob attack at the Capitol, the two men met on Thursday for what aides described as a "good and cordial" meeting, and sought to present a united front.... It was the latest evidence that top Republicans, many of whom harshly criticized Mr. Trump after the assault, have quickly swung back into line behind him and are courting his support as he faces a second impeachment trial.

McCarthy tried to carefully thread a needle, acknowledging Trump's wrongdoing while simultaneously pushing back against the idea of holding Trump accountable, but it didn't work. The former president raged about McCarthy having "bowed to pressure" and failing to show absolute, genuflecting fealty.

And instead of ignoring Trump's whining, and turning his focus toward governance, McCarthy instead got on a plane, went to Mar-a-Lago, and kissed the ring of the disgraced former president he'd infuriated with a mild rebuke.

Through his new political action committee, Trump soon after issued a written statement that actually said, "President Trump's popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time."

I'll confess, I laughed out loud at the idea that Trump's belief that his political backing may be the single most potent endorsement of any human being in the history of the planet. That's not only hilarious on its face, it's belied by recent events. Just ask Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

But it's the larger context that matters most: the Republican Party briefly considered a post-Trump future, only to decide it's better off sticking with the defeated, unpopular, scandal-plagued former president who cost the GOP its power and who helped put their lives in danger a few weeks ago.

In addition to the New York Times report quoted above, Politico added, "Three weeks ago, Donald Trump was radioactive, even in the top quarters of his own party. Now, those same Republicans are convinced they can't live without the energy he gives off, even if it proves toxic."

By some accounts, it's an addiction of convenience. The Associated Press reported overnight, "Republicans appear to be warming toward Trump, fully aware that his supporters are poised to punish anyone who displays disloyalty. With that in mind, party leaders are working to keep Trump in the fold as they focus on retaking the House and Senate in 2022."

In other words, GOP leaders would have us believe that they're not necessarily kowtowing to their corrupt former leader; they're merely using him to acquire power. Roll Call had a related report noting that McCarthy is especially interested in exploiting Trump's donor base to help finance Republican campaigns in the 2022 midterms.

But the motivation is largely irrelevant: Republican leaders aren't leaving Trump behind; they're instead putting him up front. The party isn't moving on; it's looking back, clinging to failure.