It was the second day of chaos on the House floor when Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) took the previously unimaginable step of snubbing Donald Trump, the ex-president she normally admires.
“Let’s stop with the campaign smears and tactics to get people to turn against us — even having my favorite president call us and tell us to knock this off. I think it actually needs to be reversed and the [former] president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw,” Boebert said. “Ooo”s from Democrats could be heard from the chamber.
McCarthy’s inability to win the votes needed to become House Speaker despite six tries marks a unique failure on his behalf. However, it has thrown into doubt Trump’s ability to build the party in his image at a time when numerous Republicans have publicly opposed his current presidential bid.
“If these 20 people are successful in exerting their will over the 200 more Republicans who want McCarthy, and deny McCarthy the speakership, then it will be a huge, huge hit against President Trump because the people who he’s supposed to have the most influence with didn’t listen to him,” said Rodney Davis, the outgoing Republican congressman from Illinois.
The Trump-McCarthy relationship has taken several twists and turns over the years, with the latter most often characterized by loyalty to the former. McCarthy was the one who traveled to Mar-a-Lago after Jan. 6 to meet with a supposedly exiled Trump and, implicitly, keep him in line.
Trump, for his part, has expressed support for McCarthy’s bid for speaker, despite contemporaneous evidence proving the congressman’s unhappiness with Trump’s presidency. After Republicans regained control of the House, Trump spoke with anti-McCarthy activists, publicly backed McCarthy, and even warned those fighting McCarthy that they were creating a “doomsday scenario” in the House.
Behind the scenes, he worked the phones on behalf of McCarthy. But Trump’s support for McCarthy has not been enough to sway the so-called Never-Kevins, who each have their own personal issues with the California congressman and have pushed for additional demands in recent weeks, including changing the procedure for ousting a House Speaker and changing committee assignments.
Hardliners against McCarthy have included Freedom Caucus members from the GOP’s most MAGA side, with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — no stranger to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club — leading the way. They are certain, though, that vote against McCarthy is not a vote against Trump.
“I would suggest that of the 20 who’ve been voting against Kevin McCarthy, they are friends with President Trump. They like President Trump, they support President Trump. However, this is a vote of 222 members of the Republican Party,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.). He declined to comment on any calls with Trump but added, “I’m voting against Kevin McCarthy because it’s what I believe to be right for the country.”
“It didn’t move the needle,” Gaetz said of Trump’s McCarthy endorsement.
Trump’s supporters argue that Trump’s endorsement would never have been enough to put McCarthy over the required vote barrier. One Trump friend claimed the president was “playing it safe,” trying not to insult anyone while recognizing that the 20 Republican legislators who oppose McCarthy had different reasons for doing so.
“I know a lot of people are focusing on Trump’s ‘waning influence’ regarding this speaker vote,” said the person. “I think it would be a different story if Trump was attacking someone and they still wouldn’t budge. That would signal waning influence. … If anyone wants to suggest waning power or influence then I think they’re off base because Trump hasn’t gone full Trump mode.”
Other Republican leaders said that the party’s problem in recent days was not Trump’s influence, but rather the strategic thinking of a small percentage of House members. When asked about Boebert’s remarks, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich criticized the Colorado Republican.
“Did you see the margin by which she was elected?” he said. “I don’t put much stock in what she says and I don’t think Trump does either. Trump admires McCarthy and if the attack is from the so-called right, then it’s pretty hard to explain why they’re against someone Trump is supporting.”
“I don’t think they care,” Gingrich added. “I think this is all about personal attitudes and bitterness and to me it’s kind of amazing to watch.”