Thursday, Donald Trump reacted to the withdrawal of Kevin McCarthy from the GOP caucus nomination for Speaker of the House by placing credit where he thinks it is due:
“’They’re giving me a lot of credit for that because I said you really need someone very, very tough and very smart,’ Trump said at a campaign event in Las Vegas. ‘You know, smart goes with tough. I know tough people that aren’t smart. That’s the worst. We need smart, we need tough, we need the whole package.’”
Go ahead and read that again. Let it sink in.
Got it? Okay, think about it again. Setting aside who “they” are, and who Trump may or may not know, and whether they may or may not be tough and/or smart, I—even I—can tell you one thing with absolute certainty:
Donald Trump had nothing to do with this.
Not. One. Thing.
The election is more than a year away. The Iowa caucuses aren’t until February. The sitting members of the House are barely thinking about their own re-elections yet, much less what the presidential contenders are up to at the moment. They are busy. They have jobs. They are in hearings. They are arguing over the debt ceiling, and Planned Parenthood, and Obamacare, and the Iran Deal.
They aren’t paying attention to Donald Trump.
Kevin McCarthy didn’t find himself stepping down because he wasn’t “smart” or “tough.”
He stepped down because he knew he wasn’t going to win—and not because Trump thought he wasn’t going to win, but because he knew he didn’t have 218 votes in the caucus to take to the general House election.
The leadership elections in the House are all about internal politics, not presidential politics. The House members are, indeed, thinking about people who don’t like Kevin McCarthy—people whose opinions they worry about because they are their constituents, and they are activists for the Tea Party, or Heritage Action, or just conservative individuals. And those people have been doing this work since back when Donald Trump was just stroking his ego by firing celebrities on television.
But now he is stroking his ego in an entirely new way, and it seems to give him great satisfaction. He is raucously enjoying his romp through the field of politics. He is playing by no rules, obeying few protocols. He is a dilettante, and like all dilettantes, he is of no consequence to the members of the House, be they “establishment” or “Tea Party insurgents” (or whatever the current terms of art may be.) After all his own talk about how out of touch Washington is, it seems inconceivable that he could even imagine that his few sentences wafting into the rarefied air of the Capitol might somehow have the power to break through the elitist armor of the beltway.
And, yet, The Donald’s immense ego allows him to assign to himself credit for something that literally millions of conservatives have been working for since 2012. His astonishing self-absorption tells him not only that “no one” was talking about immigration before him (untrue)—but that the drive to unseat Boehner and his leadership team came into being only when Trump pursed his lips, frowned, and said the magic words.
No, Donald. I know these are words you rarely hear, but it’s not about you.
It’s about the people who spent their treasure and sweat knocking on doors for Matt Bevin, trying to unseat Mitch McConnell, and the people who did unseat Eric Cantor and then went on to elect Dave Brat. And it’s about the deep disappointment of those people when their efforts seemingly changed nothing. Kevin McCarthy was a big part of that nothing.
That drive built when Boehner and McConnell and their leadership teams maintained the status quo—after promising conservative voters that they would govern as conservatives if only they got huge majorities. They got those majorities. They didn’t govern that way. Conservatives seethed.
Week after week, establishment politicians gave Obama what he wanted. On virtually every issue that matters to the voters that got Boehner’s team elected, the leadership backed down. Obamacare. Executive Amnesty. Planned Parenthood. They didn’t use the power of the purse to stop anything. They didn’t use reconciliation. In the minds of the people who delivered those majorities, their votes, their contributions, and their time as volunteers seemed completely wasted.
Tension built further when a Motion to Vacate the Chair was introduced, and the inside word got out that there was going to be a vote to get rid of Boehner, but they were putting it off until after the Pope’s visit—an event Boehner considered the pinnacle of his Speakership. (Just think about that for a second. The Speaker of the House thought the most important thing he ever did was to invite someone else to speak, about no legislation whatsoever. Yeah, he definitely needed to go.)
When Boehner suddenly announced his resignation, having had the epiphany that after having the Pope speak he had nothing left to do (uh….what?), conservatives were elated.
Right up until they heard Kevin McCarthy was going to run for it.
Pressure built, and the conservatives fielded their own candidate, then Jason Chaffetz stepped in, and it was clear McCarthy didn’t have the votes, and during the week, pressure built and built and built…..
But no, Donald Trump. You didn’t build that.
Image: Gage Skidmore via: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22007612@N05/8566718339