McCarthy’s push to become Speaker of the House hinges on Trump
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The next speaker in the United States House could very well come from California — not from Nancy Pelosi’s slice of Golden State, but from the other California, Donald Trump’s California.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is a son of the Central Valley, an agricultural and oil heart who eagerly embraced the former president. A strip of rural conservatism amid progressive California politics, it’s where residents often feel ostracized, resented, and left behind by their liberal neighbors in San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south.
“We are the Forgotten Valley,” retired insurance salesman Chuck Hall said at a Republican Party dinner last week in Fresno.
It was here that McCarthy launched his political rise from a young entrepreneur who set up a sandwich counter in his uncle’s frozen yogurt shop to one of the most powerful Republicans in state and national politics. His career took off in the Trump era, when McCarthy was one of the first proponents to understand the magnetic pull of Trump’s grievance-laden populism in driving working-class workers away from Democrats and into the Republican fold.
But last week, McCarthy’s future as House leader of the party was put in jeopardy after a soundtrack was broadcast telling his fellow Republicans following the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising at the U.S. Capitol. that Trump should resign.
As McCarthy looks to Trump to help Republicans take control of the House in the November election and seize the speaker’s gavel from San Francisco Democrat Pelosi, the year-old comments have raised new questions about their relationship and McCarthy’s ability to lead a party still beholden to Trump. .
“I don’t need to have the job,” McCarthy told The Associated Press in an interview last week in his district days before the New York Times released the audio of his 2021 remarks.
“You know, I did what I’m going to do. Now is that really your legacy?”
The release of the audio didn’t dampen McCarthy’s welcome to a California Republican Party banquet on Saturday night in Anaheim, where he received a standing ovation from a crowd of more than 500.
In a speech, he never mentioned the audio directly, but did a dig on MSNBC and CNN, which aired snippets of his remarks. “They have more letters in their names than they have viewers,” he said.
He also praised Trump on several occasions, at one point saying the former president should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
McCarthy’s career in many ways mirrors the arc of Republican politics, coming of age in the heady optimism of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and then aligning with Trump’s more vocal criticism of the status quo and Democratic policies. .
But McCarthy’s handling of the Capitol attack, especially as the House Jan. 6 committee investigates his conversations with Trump that day, will stand out as a defining chapter in his time in Congress and, perhaps, being, of his future as a leader. McCarthy had slammed Trump immediately after the siege, which he called “un-American” and said was one of the saddest days of his career, before rushing to visit Trump at his Mar- a-Lago in Florida to smooth things over. .
“He still has bruises,” said Dave Noerr, the longtime mayor of Taft, a historic oil-drilling town. “He will wear those bruises in perpetuity. So that was a very difficult lesson.”
The Trump years appear to have created a hangover in the Central Valley, where residents said they were tired of politics and fighting in Washington, and just wanted some relief from the stresses of their everyday lives. .
Inflation has sent gasoline prices skyrocketing to nearly $6 a gallon, pushing the price of a full tank into triple digits for some. Crime remains a problem as the region grapples with demographic fluctuations and income inequality. The coronavirus crisis looms over the community as elsewhere as the nation emerges from the pandemic.
Families watching children at a weekday Little League game had mixed opinions, with some believing McCarthy was part of the problem in Washington and others seeing him as a potential solution.
Garrilynn Dickerson, a respiratory therapist and mother of two who has treated COVID-19 patients at a local hospital, said she just wants Republicans and Democrats to work together.
“Honestly, I just want unity,” said the independent voter who said she liked the libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., but also wanted to see McCarthy reach out more to Democrats. “I don’t like bashing.”
Despite its conservative roots, the place often referred to as West Texas is also changing. The once predominantly white population is fading as Latinos and other demographic groups grow in number. Bakersfield City Council is working on new district lines to accommodate Punjab’s growing population.
Christian Romo, chairman of the Kern County Democrats, said the birthplace of the farmworker movement and home of civil rights labor leader Cesar Chavez comes into its own. As second- and third-generation immigrants become eligible to vote, their party allegiance is highly sought after by Democrats and Republicans striving to increase numbers and turnout.
“We’re a red dot in a very blue county, but I keep telling people the blue wave is coming through that red wall,” he said.
To prepare for the November election, McCarthy is returning to the tools of another former Republican president, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who won control in the 1994 election after presenting voters with the GOP’s list of priorities “Contract with the America”.
McCarthy tasked his base with coming up with his own list of priorities to present to the public this summer. He acknowledged that his ideas were not embraced by the other GOP leader in Congress, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said the election would be a referendum on President Joe Biden and Democratic policies.
“This is where Mitch and I disagree,” McCarthy said. “I think we need to expose to the American public what you’re going to do in advance, because when people go to vote, they vote for the agenda.”
Longtime Kern County Republican leader Cathy Abernathy, who first hired McCarthy as a young congressional intern a generation ago, said she’s not convinced Republicans will be able to take control this fall, despite outside analysis suggesting the election was theirs to lose.
“I don’t take it for granted,” she said.
It’s not the first time McCarthy has grabbed the president’s gavel, having abruptly dropped out of a race in 2015 when it was clear he lacked the support of far-right lawmakers.
However, it is not certain that this time he will be able to do much better. The latest Republican speakers, including Gingrich and Representatives John Boehner of Ohio and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have all dropped out of work, driven out of town by restive rank-and-file lawmakers in their own party.
“Do I want to be the speaker? Yes. But I don’t have to be the speaker,” McCarthy said. “My life will be fine one way or another.”