With Rep. Kevin McCarthy poised to become the next minority leader in the House of Representatives, Donald Trump will get his first handpicked congressional leader.
Unlike Speaker Paul Ryan, whom Trump inherited, McCarthy has seamlessly transitioned from establishment “young gun” to being (as Trump has called him) “my Kevin.” He owes his position to Trump.
To skeptics who are wondering what might change (isn’t it already Trump’s party?), there will no longer even be the pretense that House Republicans will pursue an independent agenda. Trump now controls at least one-and-a-half branches of government.
The big question is whether Trump wants to wage war (as revenge for investigations) or whether he issues an edict to cut some deals on things like infrastructure (doubtful). If Trump chooses the former, he will have a loyal contingent in the House to serve as his surrogates. And remember, being in the minority can be fun. Absent the responsibility to actually prevent crisis (see the debt ceiling) a minority party can engage in high jinks and extract concessions and compromises.
Like a meddling NFL owner watching the game from above in a press box, Trump will be phoning in some of the plays.
Remember the days when Republican leaders and presidents had to deal with those pesky conservative insurgents? Yeah, that doesn’t exist anymore. In the House, Trump now owns both the conservative revolutionaries and the Republican establishment. That’s because most of anti-Trump Republicans either (a) decided against running for reelection or (b) were (ironically) defeated because of the anti-Trump backlash in the suburbs.
Although the percentage of Republicans in House will be smaller starting in 2019, the percentage of “Trumplicans” within the GOP caucus will have increased. The result is a leaner and (literally) meaner GOP caucus. It’s an Army of Trumps.
Jim DeMint once declared that he’d “rather have 30 Marco Rubios than 60 Arlen Specters.” That was when Rubio was considered a Tea Party conservative revolutionary and Specter a liberal Republican. But the premise—that purity and combativeness mean more than having a majority—is something that Donald Trump might endorse. Nobody said remaking the party in his image wouldn’t require sacrifices and setbacks.
McCarthy’s ascension, though, isn’t the only indicator for just how Trump-tastic we can expect the GOP House caucus to get. Given that Steve Scalise and Liz Cheney are both unchallenged for their leadership posts (minority whip and House GOP conference chair, respectively), there is likely no room for a more moderate "anti-Trump" alternative.
Trumpism, it seems, is the only game in town.
This theory will soon be tested. A few more low-profile races may determine who will lead the party in multiple committee races (Judiciary chairman, Appropriations, Transportation and Infrastructure, etc.); those decisions will be made by the Republican Steering Committee after Thanksgiving. The results will speak to the GOP’s agenda―and indicate whether they will fight vigilantly for Trump’s legislative priorities.
Let’s take, for example, the race for ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee. If Texas Rep. Kay Granger or Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole wins, it’s probably more business as usual. But if hard-charging Georgia Rep. Tom Graves wins, the odds are greater that he would fight for Trump’s agenda (say, for example, if Trump wants to take a hard line on the budget and demand border-wall funding).
That’s just one example of how a Trump loyalist could impact things in the House. Trump also reportedly is helping Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, become ranking member on the Judiciary Committee. As Politico noted, during a recent interview on Fox News, “Jordan cited conservative priorities like repealing the Affordable Care Act, building Trump's long-promised wall along the southern border…”
It’s unclear whether the Trump loyalists will win; factors like experience and tenure matter. The fundamental question will be, “What is the best strategy to win back the majority?” Will it be a full-on embrace of Trump―or will it be a “go along to get along” mentality?
My guess is that the former will win out, and their wins will have long-term consequences. These ranking members would then become chairmen if the House flips back.
The Trumpification of the GOP isn’t exclusive to the House. Trump continues to swap out members of his administration, often replacing people who had previous or independent experience as a principal with staffers and loyalists.
With the addition of new senators like Josh Hawley of Missouri (replacing Democrat Claire McCaskill) and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee (replacing Republican Bob Corker), the Senate will also get Trumpier.
But the most noticeable change will be in the House, which is by design supposed to be the hotter, more populist (Trumpier) chamber, anyway.
Under normal circumstances, a midterm loss would chasten a party and cause them to reevaluate their direction and possibly move to the center. In this case, however, a smaller caucus is actually a bolder, Trumpier, caucus.
Republicans lost control of the House on Tuesday. And Trump won control of the Republican House. Maybe it was worth it to him? He has his team now.