Kevin McCarthy Off to a Bad Start

Conservatives rejoiced at the news that John Boehner would be stepping down as House Speaker in October, but the enthusiasm for his likely replacement – Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California – has been muted. At a time when conservatives are looking for brash, bold leadership that looks less establishment and more Tea Party, it’s unclear how McCarthy will be much of a change.

McCarthy’s rise in the House has been extraordinary, putting him right into Boehner’s inner circle as House Whip after only two terms. He has been described as “highly political”; some go as far as to call him “Machiavellian.” But even with all of that supposed savvy, he managed to commit a ridiculous blunder on Fox News.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” said McCarthy. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that McCarthy had “committed the classic Washington gaffe of saying something that everybody already knows is true.”

Hillary Clinton called the comments “deeply distressing,” telling MSNBC that it “does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost, but of everybody who has served our country.”

A leader in the Republican Party cannot afford to give the Democrats these kinds of softballs. Now, maybe McCarthy was nervous. Or, maybe he’s not as sharp as everyone says.

Even without the obvious questions about McCarthy’s ability to speak on national television without sinking the GOP, how is he going to be any more effective than Boehner? He has been effective as hell in building up friendships in the House, but friendships don’t necessarily translate into votes. He’s shown no particular allegiance to the new crop of conservatives, even betraying them on a couple of occasions – whipping votes one way only to vote the other way himself.

From all indications, McCarthy is about McCarthy. And while his political aspirations have certainly come to fruition, that doesn’t mean we should be happy about it.

Conservatives knew within the first month of 2015 that the Republican wins in November would not change one damn thing. And we’ll likely need even less time to evaluate whether changing the House Speaker is any more effective.

Who knows? Maybe McCarthy will surprise us. Maybe he senses which way the wind is blowing. But even if he aligns himself with the hardliners, he’d better improve his skills in front of a microphone. Democrats can take anything out of context and make a federal case over it; we certainly don’t need to hand them talking points on a silver platter.

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