If he succeeds, McCarthy will demonstrate a level of control over his caucus that his most recent predecessors as party leader, Paul D. Ryan and John A. Boehner, did not enjoy when they departed the scene. Both Ryan in 2018 and Boehner in 2015 quit in frustration over the party’s divisions, Ryan with Trump, Boehner with recalcitrant fiscal conservatives in the Freedom Caucus.
The GOP seemed ungovernable then, but Trump’s chaotic presidency has in some ways brought Republican lawmakers into greater cohesion. That may be more a reaction to the unifying effect Trump had on Democrats and on GOP voters than a result of any respect for Trump’s leadership. Still, the anti-Trump Republicans are harder and harder to find.
In routing Cheney, McCarthy will also have gone far to rehabilitate his image. He’s known for his ability to work with members across the ideological spectrum, but the pall of losing the speakership to Ryan in 2015 still hangs over him. Then, he was the odds-on favorite as Boehner’s No. 2 to replace him. But the Freedom Caucus rejected the Californian as insufficiently committed to full resistance to then-President Barack Obama’s agenda.
And Republicans questioned his messaging skills after McCarthy told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Republicans’ lengthy investigation into the 2012 killings of two U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, was actually an effort to embarrass Hillary Clinton, the Democrat who’d been secretary of State in 2012 and was, in 2015, the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee.
Republicans had forgiven McCarthy enough to name him minority leader after Ryan’s departure and after losing the House in 2018, and McCarthy is the favorite to be their next speaker if Republicans win the House majority next year.