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McCarthy’s Revenge Tour Rolls On, With Mixed Results

McCarthy’s Revenge Tour Rolls On, With Mixed Results

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During the awkward interlude after he was ousted from the speakership but before he resigned from Congress, Kevin McCarthy found himself standing on the House floor one afternoon next to Representative Bob Good of Virginia, one of the eight Republicans who had voted to remove him from power.

“I just traveled to your district,” Mr. McCarthy, still raw over his political downfall, said in what was interpreted as a vaguely threatening tone. “It’s a really nice district.”

“Why don’t you come down and spend money there?” Mr. Good, the chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, taunted Mr. McCarthy in response.

“Oh, I’m going to,” Mr. McCarthy shot back. “I might spend $5 million there, too.”

In this instance, Mr. McCarthy was as good as his word.

In the months that followed, he helped direct more than $6 million into the race to defeat Mr. Good, who is now fighting to hang on to his seat after coming up 375 votes short in his recent primary against a Trump-backed challenger, John J. McGuire. (Mr. Good’s campaign is paying for a recount, and he is claiming there was “inappropriate activity” at ballot drop boxes in Lynchburg, the district’s biggest city.)

Mr. McCarthy’s campaign to bring down Mr. Good was just one part of an elaborate and expensive campaign of revenge he has mounted since leaving Congress, one designed to ruin the Republicans he holds responsible for his demise.

“Bob Good was defeated, but the loser just can’t accept it yet,” said Brian O. Walsh, a top McCarthy ally who is coordinating the former speaker’s efforts to unseat the so-called “Crazy Eight” Republicans who crossed him.

Mr. McCarthy declined to comment for this story, but Mr. Walsh made it clear that the former speaker was bent on retribution and doing little to hide it. “We said there would be consequences,” Mr. Walsh said, “and we are persistent and very patient.”

Mr. McCarthy spent more than $4 million in an unsuccessful bid to defeat Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina in her primary last month, and his allies are now promoting ethics allegations against her in hopes of making her unelectable in the future. He and his allies are backing a challenger to Representative Eli Crane of Arizona, the sole first-term Republican who voted to remove Mr. McCarthy, who faces a primary in August. And Mr. McCarthy is going after Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, his chief tormentor and the ringleader of the push to depose him, pushing accusations that Mr. Gaetz had sex with an underage girl.

Representative Matt Rosendale of Montana, another of the Republicans who voted to oust the former speaker, abruptly dropped his re-election bid in March after rampant rumors circulated that he had an affair with a staff member. Mr. Walsh declined to comment on whether Mr. McCarthy and those in his orbit had anything to do with that decision. But Mr. Rosendale’s decision saved them millions of dollars.

It is all a new role for a man best known as a happy-go-lucky political operator, a consummate team player and a prodigious fund-raiser, whose paid speeches since leaving Congress include one titled “The Happy Warrior Leadership Mindset.” Now, bent on settling his own political scores, Mr. McCarthy has been inserting himself into a high-stakes election cycle in which Republicans are pressing to win control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

In addition to pouring millions of dollars into the race against Mr. Good, Mr. McCarthy urged former President Donald J. Trump to endorse Mr. McGuire, a right-wing election denier who had few policy differences with the incumbent. He tried, but failed, to get Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia to weigh in against Mr. Good. Still, he and his allies are happy with their results, even though Mr. McGuire did not score a decisive victory.

The tight race was in some ways more gratifying than a clear win, they said, in that the situation is making Mr. Good lose both his race and his mind.

More targets lie ahead, including Mr. Crane, who said in an interview that he had been anticipating as much.

“You make your bed, you sleep in it,” said Mr. Crane, who insisted he was not worried about the primary challenge against him, in large part because his Republican rival is named Jack Smith, the same name as the special counsel prosecuting Mr. Trump.

“That doesn’t exactly play well anywhere in the country in a Republican primary,” Mr. Crane said. “I won’t be surprised if the swamp gets me one day. Maybe it will be next cycle. But I just remind myself it’s OK. I came here to shake things up.”

Last Saturday, Mr. Walsh’s group released a television ad attacking Mr. Gaetz ahead of his August primary against a little-known challenger, Aaron Dimmock, a retired Navy officer and aviator. The ad focuses on Mr. Gaetz’s close friendship with Joel Greenberg, the Florida tax collector who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for trafficking a 17-year-old girl and an array of other crimes.

In his public speeches, Mr. McCarthy often focuses on Mr. Gaetz, claiming that the only reason he was removed from the speakership was that the Florida congressman “wanted me to stop an ethics complaint because he slept with a 17-year-old.” Mr. Gaetz has denied those claims, and the Justice Department investigated them and declined to charge him. But Mr. McCarthy and his allies have quietly sought to fuel a separate inquiry into the matter by the House Ethics Committee.

McCarthy’s former aides and friends have gently encouraged him to stop sounding so bitter and preoccupied with Mr. Gaetz. But Mr. McCarthy is committed to the bit, telling people he wants to define Mr. Gaetz in public and prevent him from ever becoming electable statewide, even if it will be almost impossible to beat him in a congressional primary.

Sarah Chamberlain, president of the establishment Republican Main Street Partnership, said Mr. McCarthy was within his rights to play in any primary he fancied.

“He raises the money; he can do with it what he likes,” said Ms. Chamberlain, whose group backed Mr. McGuire even though he is much further to the right than the mainstream candidates it usually supports. “He was the first speaker to be ousted in a way that probably wasn’t very fair to him, and it’s his prerogative to handle it any way he likes.”

Once by far the biggest fund-raiser among House Republicans, Mr. McCarthy is not solely bent on revenge. He is still helping raise money for the Congressional Leadership Fund, an outside group that supports vulnerable House Republicans. And he is still personally making the rounds for members he likes. (A spokeswoman for the Congressional Leadership Fund could not provide a figure for how much Mr. McCarthy has raised for the group since leaving office.)

He recently headlined a fund-raiser in Omaha for Representative Don Bacon, who represents a district President Biden won by six points in 2020, and a Los Angeles fund-raiser for Representative Max Miller of Ohio. Mr. McCarthy still prides himself on being the top donor to the National Republican Campaign Committee, even after being out of office for nine months.

Still, what has animated him most is the prospect of accountability for those he believes acted wrongly toward him. The mixed results of Mr. McCarthy’s revenge tour so far demonstrate how hard it is to unseat incumbents who have made moves to appeal to the party’s hard-right base.

Two of the Republicans who voted to oust him, Representatives Tim Burchett of Tennessee and Andy Biggs of Arizona, do not have primary challengers. A third, Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, left Congress of his own accord earlier this year.

Others have proved more difficult to vanquish. Ms. Mace handily won her primary by 27 points, and many voters in her district said her vote to oust Mr. McCarthy was the very thing that won them over.

Lynn Fontaine, the southern regional director of the Beaufort County Republican Party, said that most of her friends and neighbors in Hilton Head could not stand Ms. Mace because she had criticized Mr. Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, but that “Mace’s vote against McCarthy was a redeeming moment for her.”

Stephen K. Bannon, who used his “War Room” podcast to press for Mr. McCarthy’s removal and campaigned for Mr. Good, called Mr. McCarthy a “spent force” in Republican politics.

“He’s as toxic with the Republican base of voters as Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. Bannon said.

Mr. Crane said the money being spent to defeat him could be spent in more productive ways.

“Look at the bigger picture: What could that money have done to help, and not participate in a revenge tour?” he said.

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