Deny and lie: That was Kevin McCarthy’s initial reaction to last week’s New York Times reporting about how he had privately blamed former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol and was desperate to distance the party from Trump.
McCarthy had to change tacks after the Times produced audio recordings. Tucker Carlson slammed McCarthy on Tuesday night, calling him a “puppet of the Democratic party,” and Matt Gaetz went after him, too. But by yesterday morning, when McCarthy spoke to House Republicans at their weekly meeting, he was giving a “full-throated defense” of his leaked comments about Trump, claiming he had just been floating scenarios, and saying he was being persecuted.
It’s not enough to describe McCarthy as a liar who will betray anyone within his vicinity to protect his position atop the MAGA dump. Something is happening on a more disturbing level.
What’s disorienting about McCarthy’s machinations is that what the House Republican leader is trying to defend and explain away is his temporary display of honesty. After the ugliness and the deaths of the attack on the Capitol, McCarthy—and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, whose private comments about Trump have also been leaked—came to their senses. McCarthy and McConnell said they were fed up with Trump and remarked how he could be removed, with McConnell asking a reporter about the Twenty-fifth Amendment and both men discussing impeachment.
So McCarthy and McConnell knew that Donald Trump was bad for their party.
They knew that Trump was bad for the country.
They knew that he was to blame for Jan. 6th.
And they talked about getting rid of him.
Yet neither man publicly called on Trump to resign. Neither man voted to impeach or convict Trump. In public, they attacked the proposal for an independent Jan. 6th commission. They said they would support Trump as the 2024 nominee. And their various fundraising apparatuses are now in overdrive praising and promoting the former president.
That makes them garbage men.
Not in the usual sense of garbage men, mind you—the hardworking folks who collect and dispose of our trash so we can all live cleaner, healthier lives. McCarthy and McConnell do the opposite: They’ll occasionally cleanse their consciences in private, dump their political garbage on us, and think the stink won’t follow them as they retire to their comfortable chambers.
A somewhat tired and frustrating debate that often arises among those looking from the outside into the MAGA world is whether the people who peddle lies about the 2020 election really believe them or not. That may be a worthy discussion when it comes to the most fringey unstable actors who seem to have found their new life’s purpose in the comment threads of QAnon message boards. And it’s a fair debate when it comes to the GOP base.
Safe to say most Republican officeholders don’t believe it, though. They know that Biden won the 2020 election, that Trump’s challenges to the election were baseless and frivolous, and that Trump incited the attack on the Capitol.
Consider what we now know McCarthy and McConnell were saying after Jan. 6th:
- McCarthy: “I’ve had it with this guy. What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.”
- McConnell: “If this isn’t impeachable, I don’t know what is.” And: “The Democrats are going to take care of the son of a bitch for us.”
These private comments are remarkable for how direct they are, but also because McCarthy and McConnell may be the most prominent and powerful of Trump’s garbage men.
That said, similar sentiments have been revealed this week from various Republican officials, members of Congress, and MAGA media personalities in text messages sent to Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. We previously learned that many of them, knowing the sway Trump held over the Jan. 6th rioters, begged Trump to intervene—but then went on to publicly blame Antifa for the violence. And last night brought a report that Trump’s former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was warning people about Trump in late 2020 (“I’m not sure he’ll leave office willingly”)—but again, only in private.
They all knew the truth. And they kept it quiet, to themselves, so they could go on to whitewash the attack, rehab Trump, and shovel their garbage on all of us.