Kevin McCarthy is angling to be third in line to the presidency but the Liz Cheney debacle should call into question the leadership skills of the California Republican.
You have to hand it to Mitch McConnell. He may not be Donald Trump’s favorite Republican, or the most dynamic of public figures, but at least he has his people largely in line. Kevin McCarthy, on the other hand, has presided over a five-month-long intra-party fight over his conference chairperson that has repeatedly forced his members off message and kept the party on defense.
Democrats and the media wanted Mr. McCarthy and House Republicans to keep this fight going and he has obliged them at every turn. The left wanted an excuse to keep talking about Jan. 6 and the former president’s claims about the contested election and arguably Mr. McCarthy has added fuel to that conversation.
Liz Cheney is entitled to her opinions about President Trump and his handling of the post-election period. Smart and substantive, she has been a reliable conservative regardless of what the former president says about her. Republicans shouldn’t be in the business of silencing people for their views, but rather rallying together in common purpose against the left.
However, in trying to be all things to all people, the Republican House Leader has made matters worse. Walking a tightrope means you either fall on your rear end or get nowhere fast.
The left has used this prolonged controversy as evidence of an intolerant Republican Party that is willing to bend to the political vendettas of former President Trump.
In actuality, Ms. Cheney’s feelings about Mr. Trump are in some ways immaterial. The problem that Mr. McCarthy failed to deal with was her inability to effectively perform in her leadership post once this fight dragged on.
The conference chairperson is elected to manage the media strategy and messaging for the Republican members. Ms. Cheney is supposed to be leading the strategic battle against the left, working every day to keep everyone singing from the same songbook.
Ms. Cheney’s impeachment vote immediately put her at odds with the vast majority of the conference. Once it became clear that she was no longer capable of performing her leadership duties due to the fallout, Mr. McCarthy should have intervened and asked her to step aside.
Leadership means weighing the options and making tough decisions, often quickly before situations are overtaken by events and perceptions become reality. Mr. McCarthy had a chance to eliminate the Cheney distraction quickly, tactfully and respectfully. He blew it.
House Republicans have largely been in lockstep against the Democrats’ radical agenda, but the public perception is that the party is at war with itself. The Republican message has repeatedly been overtaken by publicity hounds like Matt Gaetz and Margorie Taylor Greene who aren’t leaders capable of attracting the broad electoral support needed to recapture the majority.
You win by playing offense and there are few in Washington who today would suggest the GOP is on the offensive. Mr. McCarthy’s clay feet over the handling of the Cheney situation has prevented the party from coalescing around a coherent strategy, a new Contract with America or even much in the way of a counter legislative agenda.
The mission of House Republicans is to protect taxpayers and American freedom from the advances of Democratic-Socialists in the majority. It’s not to perform a public inquisition, therapy sessions, or political soul searching.
Mr. McCarthy and the GOP need to understand that they’re fighting a multi-front war. Five months of this nonsense that doesn’t move the voters they need to win has been far too long. He has time to demonstrate a more assertive and strategic leadership style, but Kevin McCarthy needs to start getting his house in order or perhaps he should be the next to go.
• Tom Basile, host of Newsmax Television’s “America Right Now,” is an author and adjunct professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where he teaches earned media strategy.
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