Corbin Bolies, Josh Fiallo
While never quite predictable, Trump likely has the power to save McCarthy, should the California Republican—as expected—face a “motion to vacate” vote. (Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that he intended to offer the motion this week.)
But McCarthy’s detractors don’t seem to think Trump will speak up for McCarthy.
“Honestly, I don’t think the president is going to weigh into that at all,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) told The Daily Beast.
Donalds said he spoke with Trump late last week, and he believed Trump was “just going to let, you know, House business be House business.”
Other Freedom Caucus members and allies also projected confidence that Trump would stay out of the fray.
“I don’t see him messing with leadership right now,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) said. Burchett seemed to mean that Trump wouldn’t speak out against McCarthy, but he also predicted that Trump wouldn’t say anything.
While Trump’s been preoccupied with the campaign trail and a mountain of legal trouble, one Republican lawmaker who spoke with Trump about the shutdown said the ex-president’s been paying attention to the House chaos, but gave “no mention” of supporting McCarthy’s ouster during their conversation.
A Trump confidant told The Daily Beast it was unlikely the former president would “abandon his relationship with McCarthy,” but this source noted that Trump and the speaker have always had a “love-hate relationship.”
“This is not going to be the issue that Trump comes out to destroy McCarthy with. He still needs him,” the source said.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
The situation with McCarthy is far from theoretical. House conservatives told Politico on Sunday that they believe there are at least a dozen votes already against McCarthy. One member apparently told the publication they knew of at least seven votes against the speaker, meaning McCarthy’s fate could be in the hands of Democrats.
Even if Trump did wade into the drama, some Republicans don’t think it would matter.
“Didn’t change any minds the first time he weighed in,” one member said, referring to McCarthy’s contested 15-round speakership vote at the beginning of the Congress. But members were careful to say—including this one—that they have no indication Trump has turned on McCarthy.
Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-TX) noted that Trump has strongly backed McCarthy up to this point.
“If you think back even to the very beginning of the year, when it took us 15 votes to make him Speaker of the House, President Trump was very supportive of Kevin McCarthy at that time,” Hunt said.
And Donalds suggested the lesson of Trump supporting McCarthy during the speaker election was that “something substantial would have to happen” for the former president to turn his back on McCarthy.
Still, Trump’s position on McCarthy—and what kind of impact him speaking up would have—are matters of intense interest among the House GOP. That’s especially true for the conservatives who may hold McCarthy’s fate in their hands.
For some Republicans, crossing Trump on any issue is anathema. Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), who served as Trump’s personal physician while he was in office, was clear that what Trump said on McCarthy would matter.
“It matters every time he weighs in on anything,” he said. “He’s influential!”
But Trump’s influence on GOP leadership elections hasn’t exactly held the sway that he or his allies may present. For one, Trump has been a constant critic of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and even though the Senate is decidedly not the same as the House, McConnell’s position as the GOP leader has never really been in doubt.
For another, even in Trump’s most fraught moments with Paul Ryan when he was speaker, Ryan never had a problem retaining the speaker’s gavel.
But with McCarthy already facing a mutiny—and with his majority so slim—Trump turning on McCarthy could be the nail in his coffin. Unfortunately for McCarthy’s detractors, there’s no indication Trump is turning, even as they try to present otherwise.
Gaetz has tried his best to highlight Trump’s differences with McCarthy—and use the spending battle to claim his own unity with the former president.
When Trump argued for not playing ball on appropriations in late September—“SHUT IT DOWN!” Trump blared in one recent post on Truth Social—Gaetz tried to sow discord between Trump and McCarthy.
“Trump agrees with me. Not Speaker McCarthy. No Continuing Resolution. Break the Fever,” Gaetz tweeted.
When The Daily Beast asked Gaetz last week if he thought Trump would abandon McCarthy, Gaetz dodged.
“Oh, that’s between them,” Gaetz said. “I’m going to let them define their own relationship.”
But after McCarthy put a clean 47-day extension of government funding on the floor Saturday—and got the legislation passed 331-91, with 209 Democrats voting yes and 90 Republicans voting no—Gaetz was escalating his attacks against McCarthy on Sunday.
“I do intend to file a motion to vacate against Speaker McCarthy this week,” Gaetz said on CNN. “I think we need to rip off the band-aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy. The one thing everybody has in common is no one trusts McCarthy.”
In response to Gaetz’s announcement that he’d bring the motion, McCarthy fired back, projecting confidence that he’d survive.