The Republican Party descended into chaos this week as Matt Gaetz and a handful of rogue lawmakers voted to end Kevin McCarthy‘s fraught tenure as House Speaker. Donald Trump, the most prolific chaos agent in American politics, has been conspicuously absent from the hubbub surrounding McCarthy’s ouster. The most the former president could offer was a brief Truth Social post on Tuesday lamenting that “Republicans are always fighting among themselves.”
Trump’s silence is particularly notable considering he has defended McCarthy in the past, and as the most powerful and influential figure in the GOP could have likely put an end to the move to oust the California congressman from his perch atop the House of Representatives — if he really wanted to.
Instead, Trump stood on the sidelines and watched McCarthy’s spectacular humiliation.
According to those with knowledge of the matter, Trump’s hesitance to swoop in and rescue the now-former House Speaker — who for years has been one of the former president’s most pliable defenders and who went to great lengths to rehabilitate Trump mere weeks after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot — was just cold, pragmatic calculation.
In recent days, Trump has said privately that while he still personally likes the man he calls “my Kevin,” McCarthy’s fate was, in the end, “up to him,” a person familiar with the comment tells Rolling Stone.
Per Trump’s apparent calculation, he “has friends on both sides” of the Gaetz-McCarthy conflict, as one person with knowledge of the matter puts it. And as another source who’s known both Trump and McCarthy for years describes it, the former president “just didn’t see anything in it for him” if he were to stick his neck out, only to have McCarthy fall anyway.
During the prior fight between McCarthy and Gaetz and others who opposed McCarthy’s speakership bid after Republicans took control of the House, Trump worked the phones to (at times noticeably half-heartedly) lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill to line up behind McCarthy for the position. People close to Trump say this week that he saw no reason to put in that much effort this time around, and that Trump took on what one of the people familiar with the situation calls a “Kevin needs to save his own ass” approach.
One source who’s spoken to Trump in recent days says they asked the former president if he was going to intervene to try to boost McCarthy as his speakership hung in the balance. Trump replied, this source recalls, that his intervention wouldn’t be “necessary.”
A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
McCarthy has spent years debasing himself in various ways in order to curry favor with Trump. He was furious at the then-president after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot — emphasizing in leaked audio that what Trump had done was “unacceptable” and that he was “done” with him — but quickly fell in line, traveling to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring just weeks after the attack. He proceeded to do what he could to hamstring the House committee investigating the attack, and this year has attacked the Justice Department for investigating Trump’s alleged crimes. He has also backed an effort to expunge Trump’s impeachments, while launching an impeachment inquiry against President Biden despite a dearth of substantial evidence of wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, Trump left McCarthy out to dry in his most desperate hour, just as he’s done to so many others who have devoted their careers to gaining his approval. The former president not only didn’t do anything to save McCarthy, he may not have even cared whether he was ousted at all. “My conversations with the former president leave me with great confidence that I did the right thing,” Gaetz told reporters on Tuesday.
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