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Martin Schram: How top House Republican threw GOP bus under Trump

By Martin Schram Tribune News Service

This past week, who’da-thunk-it political history was made – by a most unlikely figure, in a most unacceptable way.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, never celebrated as a political muscleman, zigzagged his way into an invitation to see the momentarily quiet Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate. He did it just so he could pull off a feat of political powerlifting that was both zany and Tarzany.

In a switch on the talking heads’ default cliché, the House’s top Republican threw his entire Grand Old Party bus under Donald Trump. (Note to readers: Do not adjust your eyeballs. You read that right.)

As you’ll soon see below, McCarthy has spent four years switching back and forth between what he knows in his heart is right and what he thinks in his gray cells is his politically safest play. We have seen him condemn Trump’s conduct one minute, then court Trump’s stroking the next, just to get a pat on the head and a smiley photo op.

Thursday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, McCarthy went all in on the latter. He gave Trump his total support, just days before Trump’s Senate impeachment trial. What he got in return was Trump’s promise to get his base to help make McCarthy the next speaker of a Republican controlled House of Representatives.

For the past four years, McCarthy has safeguarded his most precious asset by keeping it in his desk chair while he is working in his office – and by zigzagging when he is speaking in public and even semi-public. During the 2016 presidential campaign, just a day after The Washington Post’s June scoop that Russian government hackers had broken into Democratic National Committee computers, McCarthy spoke freely at a private meeting of top House Republicans.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, according to The Post. (Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., was known to colleagues for strongly supporting Putin and Russia.) After several Republicans laughed, McCarthy reportedly added: “Swear to God.”

Then House Speaker Paul Ryan rushed to shift into damage control: “No leaks. … This is how we know we’re a real family here.” When The Post got the story a year later, reporter Adam Entous said McCarthy and Ryan first denied it all. When The Post then got the transcript and heard the tape, McCarthy and Ryan downshifted, insisting McCarthy was just joking. Swear to God.

After we all heard Trump’s Jan. 6 words inciting his mob of supporters to march on the Capitol (in the hopes of halting the congressional certification of the Electoral College presidential election totals), McCarthy forthrightly declared on the House floor:

“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”

That enraged Trump, who was reported to have called McCarthy an unprintable term. And McCarthy promptly adjusted his forthright Jan. 13 zig with this asset-covering Jan. 21 zag: “What we learned in the last four years of President Trump, by far, was that he listened to voices that no one else was hearing – in either party. (He meant that as a compliment, although you might have thought he meant Trump was nutty.) Those are voices we should continue to hear.”

In the past week, McCarthy has rewarded the controversial Georgia Republican freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who champions QAnon conspiracy theories and liked social media claims that school shooting massacres were faked, and called a Parkland high school massacre survivor a “coward” – but who also pledged $175,000 to the campaign to retake the House – by giving her a seat on the Education and Labor Committee. Swear to God.

And on Thursday, Trump and McCarthy posed in a gold-on-gold room in Trump’s Florida palace and flashed gleaming smiles as they proclaimed their unity in the campaign to make McCarthy’s House Republican again in 2022.

Frankly, It is far from certain whether either one – The GOP or The Trump – will ever again return to their days of power and glory.

But what is stunningly clear is that the lifelong Republican Party faithful no longer seem to care about being faithful to their no-longer Grand Old Party. They seem perfectly willing to be off the GOP bus – as long as they can still be followers of their pathologically lying hero – our twice impeached, multiply disgraced, defeated ex-president. Astoundingly, some polls show that huge majorities of Republicans still believe Trump’s nonstop lies that President Joe Biden didn’t win the election fairly. Swear to God.

All that makes pundits ponder whether we should be prognosticating about “Whither the Republican Party?” or “Wither the Republican Party?” Spelling counts.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at