McCarthy’s revenge tour off to a rough start after Mace win

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) plan to get revenge on the Republicans who ousted him is off to a rough start.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) on Tuesday night comfortably held off two primary challengers, including one who received support from groups tied to McCarthy, winning a clear majority in her district and avoiding a possible runoff. Mace was the favorite going into the election, having support from former President Trump and current Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

Her win was a setback for McCarthy, raising questions about his political influence within the GOP.

“To wrap it around a sports analogy, Kevin McCarthy’s 0 and 1 right now, and he’s going to have to show a significant showing over the next few races that he’s involved in to determine whether or not he still has a lever of power to pull in Washington, D.C., politics,” said Dave Wilson, a South Carolina-based Republican strategist.

Months of conservative backlash to McCarthy after a contentious 15-ballot Speaker election eventually bubbled up last October when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) filed a motion to remove McCarthy from his post.

The tipping point was McCarthy choosing to put forward a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government without any of Republicans’ main priorities and with Democratic votes to get it passed.

Mace was one of just eight Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy in his historic ouster last year, alongside Gaetz and Reps. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and others — some of the most conservative members in Congress.

Rosendale and former Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), another member of the group, chose not to seek reelection to another term, while the remaining six are all running.

But Mace was in her own category in the group of eight, seeing as she’s a much more moderate member of the House than the other defectors. She instead turned against McCarthy over promises she alleged that the then-Speaker made to her and broke.

McCarthy allies set their sights on identifying and elevating primary challengers to the so-called Gaetz eight as the ex-Speaker publicly feuded with the Republicans who rebuked him. McCarthy himself also refused to rule out supporting challengers to those incumbents.

His political action committee, Majority Committee PAC, made a $10,000 donation to Mace’s primary rival, Catherine Templeton, as she tried for reelection to her South Carolina seat, Federal Election Commission filings show. Another McCarthy-linked group, American Prosperity Alliance, reportedly spent $2.1 million against Mace.

But the South Carolina congresswoman easily bested Templeton in Tuesday night’s primary, inching closer to a third term and dealing a blow to McCarthy’s revenge efforts.

But Chip Felkel, another GOP strategist based in the Palmetto State, was skeptical of McCarthy’s impact given the former president’s presence in the race. Mace, who had once been a Trump critic, threw her support behind Trump this time around and won her primary with his backing.

“That’s old news,” Felkel said of the ouster vote. “McCarthy’s gone. He’s out of the picture. Many of these Trump voters view McCarthy as part of the problem and the establishment, and I don’t think that’s a hard leap for them.”

Wilson, on the other hand, said that while a Trump endorsement doesn’t hurt in a state like South Carolina, its potency depends on the state.

“Did it help last night? The evidence after the election says it didn’t hurt. So if you’re looking at a Trump v. McCarthy game at play here in politics, it’s Trump one, McCarthy zero. We’ll see how the next contests go,” Wilson said.

Gaetz, Crane and House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.) will also face competition from within their own parties in their primaries later this year.

Good faces a Trump-backed challenger in Virginia state Sen. John McGuire (R). In this case, Trump and McCarthy are on the same side.

Good drew the former president’s ire by initially endorsing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the Republican presidential race. While he moved quickly to back Trump after DeSantis exited the contest, Trump argued the support came “too late” and threw his weight behind McGuire.

The MC PAC has also donated $10,000 to McGuire. Good’s primary may present a better opportunity for McCarthy to succeed than Mace’s race.

In Arizona, Crane is also trying for reelection with Trump’s endorsement.

In Florida, Gaetz, who has Trump’s endorsement, will go up in August against primary challenger Aaron Dimmock, a former naval aviator, who has been endorsed by McCarthy.

Though the primaries might not make for total referendums on either Trump or McCarthy’s political power, the results could provide key signals of the influence of an endorsement from the former president after his historic conviction in a Manhattan criminal case last month, experts said. They also could indicate the staying power of the “Gaetz eight” now that McCarthy is out of the House.

Republican strategist Brian Seitchik noted that Mace had Trump’s endorsement and significant resources to get her message to voters, complicating evaluations of McCarthy’s influence in the race.

Despite the donations from McCarthy’s groups, Mace significantly outraised her opponents in the primary, taking in more than $2.2 million to Templeton’s roughly $660,000.

“It’s hard to read too much into Mace’s win and paint that as emblematic of a McCarthy failure,” he said. “It’s too early to evaluate McCarthy’s influence at this time.”

Good’s contest in Virginia is just a week away, when he will try to avoid being the first incumbent of the 2024 cycle to lose his primary.

“It’s really hard to compare the two races because the differential issue between Mace and Good is not McCarthy … it’s all about Trump support,” said Brian Kirwin, a Republican strategist based in Virginia.

McCarthy’s ouster isn’t “the deciding issue or deal breaker that people may think it is,” Kirwin said.

Seitchik said each primary race varies from district to district, but McCarthy may have better chances knocking out an incumbent who does not have previous experience facing a serious primary challenge. He pointed to Good running in a traditional primary for the Republican nomination for the first time instead of the party conventions he prevailed in in 2020 and 2022.

A poll sponsored by the Virginia Faith & Freedom Coalition released this month showed McGuire leading Good by 10 points, 41 percent support to 31 percent, but 30 percent of respondents were undecided.

Seitchik said an incumbent who has not faced a serious challenge may not have as well-developed a fundraising base, which could give McCarthy and his allies an advantage.

“The reality is you would still rather not have Team McCarthy and his allies coming up against you. It doesn’t guarantee you’re going to lose, but it’s certainly not an ideal situation for anyone,” Seitchik said.

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