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Why it matters that Kevin McCarthy is in Trump's doghouse (again)

Trump is reportedly angry that McCarthy told others about their Jan. 6 phone call, which if true, bolsters reports that the call actually happened.
Image: Kevin McCarthy
Kevin McCarthy on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 4, 2021.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

While in office, Donald Trump had a habit of referring to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as "my Kevin." At the time, the unfortunate label made a fair amount of sense. Now, things are ... different.

One of the first signs of trouble came last month when the House GOP leader tried to shield Trump from accountability for inciting an insurrectionist riot. The former president was nevertheless reportedly furious that McCarthy did so in a way that was insufficiently deferential.

Less than a month later, Trump was reportedly outraged again, complaining to aides that McCarthy stood by House Republican Conference Leader Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) despite her vote on last month's article of impeachment.

And this week, Fox News reported that the former president now views McCarthy "with disdain" -- though this time, the reasoning is a little more interesting.

Trump believes McCarthy mounted a personal attack against him by telling fellow Republicans of their heated phone call during the Capitol insurrection. In that call, Trump is reported to have told the congressman: "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election theft than you are." That became a flashpoint in the trial when Democrats pushed to hear testimony from Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who recounted the conversation after speaking with McCarthy. But the managers settled for entering her statement in the record.

As a rule, there isn't a lot of news value in keeping up on who is and isn't in Donald Trump's doghouse, but if Fox News' reporting is correct, it's worth pausing to appreciate the implications.

Shortly before last week's Senate impeachment trial concluded, we learned of an expletive-laden argument between Trump and McCarthy on Jan. 6, as the House Republican leader called the then-president during the insurrectionist violence. According to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who knew the details of the call, McCarthy reached out to Trump directly in the hopes that he would direct his mob to end the riot.

The then-president reportedly made comments to McCarthy that, if true, reinforce concerns that Trump sided with those who launched a deadly attack against his own country's Capitol.

According to Fox News' report, the former president is annoyed that McCarthy told others about their tense phone Jan. 6 conversation, which is notable because it suggests the reports about the conversation are correct. There was some chatter on the right that Herrera Beutler's account shouldn't be believed, but if she were wrong, there'd be no reason for Trump to be angry about McCarthy "telling fellow Republicans of their heated phone call."

Given that the former president may yet face prosecutorial scrutiny over the Jan. 6 attack, details like these remain quite relevant.

As for the political road ahead, Fox News' report added, "The former president plans to campaign for primary challengers to those lawmakers who opposed him on impeachment, including Liz Cheney. In the view of Trump's inner circle, McCarthy will have no choice but to support his Republican incumbents. If the Trump-backed House contenders prevail -- and it's hardly a lock that they would win in the general election -- they would feel no obligation to back McCarthy as their leader."

The idea, in other words, is for the former president to position himself as the leader of the House Republican conference.