(breitbart) – House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has a fresh spring in his step after the Republicans defied the odds and professional political prognosticators by picking up 15 seats in the 2020 congressional elections.
McCarthy, who has his eyes on the majority in November 2022, approached the 2020 congressional elections differently than Republicans in recent history have traditionally targeted congressional electoral efforts, and his moves paid off—and not only infuriated but befuddled the beltway pundit class.
For the first time since 1994, in 2020 no GOP incumbent running for reelection lost. Meanwhile, McCarthy blew away fundraising records previously set by former House Speaker Paul Ryan—astonishing since he did it from the minority. Usually, House political leaders do better raising money from the majority. That’s not to mention the most significant development which is a freshman class entering Congress in 2021 that represents perhaps the most diverse in party history with the most women to boot.
“First of all, put it in perspective, this is the first time since 1994 that no Republican incumbent lost,” McCarthy told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview when asked how the GOP did it. “We won in 2010 and that didn’t happen. No Republican incumbent lost. It was about the quality of the candidates and the message. Remember, we ended up picking up four new seats in California. We defeated four Democrats [in California], Trump lost all four districts and three of them he lost by double digits. We won in Miami. We won in New York. The quality of the candidates, the contrast—remember what we did with the Commitment to America? Rebuild, restore, and renew versus their defund, dismantle, and destroy, which they were doing. It was a very clear message. But think of the candidates we had from Young Kim to Carlos Gimenez to Ashley Hinson to Michelle Fishbach to Nicole Malliotakis in New York. We just took it to them.”
For the last three months, since the Nov. 3, 2020, general election, Breitbart News has interviewed integral players in the House GOP operation that blew away the so-called experts to get the real story of what happened down-ticket in November. While so much of the nation’s political media and pundits have—rightfully so—focused this post-election timeframe trying to understand what happened at the top of the ticket where now former GOP President Donald Trump lost to Democrat and the current President Joe Biden, not much has been reported on the McCarthy-led House GOP operation. McCarthy deserves a lot of the credit, Republicans say, but so certainly does Trump and so do other key players in the GOP like House minority whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) chairman Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN). This account, by far the most in depth on the House GOP’s surprise wins on election night, is based on conversations with McCarthy himself and with people like Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), the new chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) in the House. Also, several of the freshman GOP members who won tough races, some of whom beat Democrat incumbents and others who held open seats the so-called experts thought they would lose, spoke with Breitbart News at length about what went right for them and wrong for the Democrats. Others, like several key Trump White House officials, spoke either on background or on record to discuss McCarthy’s close relationship with the then-president which everyone agreed was critical to turning around the party’s fortunes in the lower chamber of Congress and to the future of the GOP.
One thing comes across as clear from conversations with everyone: McCarthy’s “tenacity,” as Banks put it in an exclusive interview, was perhaps the key point that helped the GOP defy the prevailing narrative and win big. “Coming out of the election in November when everything was going against us and we still won 15 seats and got just a hair away from winning back the majority—which is the exact opposite result of what every pundit in America said was going to happen—that tells you a lot about Kevin McCarthy’s tenacity,” Banks said.
The respect McCarthy commands throughout the GOP conference, which he earned after these wins, was demonstrated on Jan. 3 in the speakership vote on the floor of the House in the new conference. Every single Republican voted for him for Speaker, the first time that has happened for a Republican in a speakership election in nearly a decade.
A BUMPY RISE
One could say this story begins before Donald Trump was even running for president, back when former President Barack Obama was in the White House and now-President Biden was skinny dipping in his favorite pool at the Naval Observatory at the vice president’s residence. Back then, after the GOP lost the 2012 presidential election years before former Massachusetts governor and now-Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) moved to Utah to carpet-bag his way into a Senate seat there, a revolt brewed inside the GOP conference. A group of a dozen or so House Republicans secretly plotted to remove then-Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, from office at the regularly-scheduled speakership election in early 2013. McCarthy was the number three in leadership then, and while those anti-Boehner rebels failed in that first 2013 attempt the number two in Boehner’s leadership team then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor would lose his primary the next year in 2014 to now former Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA). The rebels against Boehner would try again at the beginning of 2015, only to fail once more, but then succeeded on a third attempt against him later that year as then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) led an insurgency using a tactic called a “motion to vacate the chair” and the August recess just weeks after Trump launched his presidential campaign. Meadows would go on to become later the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus—formed essentially as opposition to the direction the GOP establishment under Boehner was taking the conference—and then later joined the Trump White House as the now former president’s chief of staff.
The race to succeed Boehner was a complicated one, and had many candidates vying for the position. Among them were Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), and McCarthy, who had become the House Majority Leader a year prior upon Cantor’s defeat. McCarthy did not muster the votes necessary to get there, and that allowed the failed 2012 vice presidential nominee and then-House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to rise into the speakership. McCarthy remained the Majority Leader and kept building his relationships across the party, learning from the mistakes of his eventual predecessors atop the House Republicans. As Trump barnstormed America, winning a tumultuous GOP presidential primary becoming the party’s nominee, McCarthy became the first member of House GOP leadership to endorse Trump for president and McCarthy set out to help Trump win in November 2016 and then when he did to implement the president’s agenda in the first couple years of his presidency. But Ryan remained the face of House Republicans, and a thorn in Trump’s side, with McCarthy—Trump’s waiting ally—in the wings eager for his shot.
“Kevin McCarthy and President Trump developed such a strong personal rapport and sense of loyalty to each other, which began when McCarthy became the first member of House Republican Leadership to endorse President Trump’s 2016 campaign,” a former senior Trump White House official told Breitbart News. The former official pointed to how McCarthy signed up in May 2016 to be a Trump delegate from California at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016.
That’s where the story of McCarthy’s rise really begins: back in the earlier days of the Trump administration, perhaps in April 2018 when now Ryan announced he was not running for reelection and would retire from Congress after the 2018 midterm elections. Back on April 11, 2018, when Republicans held the majority less than two years into Trump’s presidency, Ryan announced at a press conference his plans. But, he refused to give up the Speaker’s gavel on the way out until after the midterm elections, and in part as a result of that decision to clutch power for just a little bit longer—among other reasons—Republicans were crushed in the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats won a net 41 seats, well more than the just more than 20 they need to retake the majority. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had been exiled to the minority since the GOP took the House in the 2010 midterm elections in Obama’s first term, completed her comeback and then proceeded to viciously attack Trump including impeaching him twice in his final two years in office. Trump was acquitted both times by the U.S. Senate, the second time after he left office.
Once the Democrats took the House majority, and Ryan exited for good, McCarthy emerged then as the leader of the House Republicans. Immediately upon taking the reins, McCarthy put a strategy in motion designed to try to retake the House majority for Republicans in November 2020—and he began executing it from the get-go picking up as much support as he could from anyone and everyone across the board including Trump. McCarthy’s close relationship with Trump proved critical for GOP success, too, aides to both men told Breitbart News, and will again as the party moves forward into the 2022 cycle.
Despite the previous dark days for Republicans under people like Boehner and Ryan, McCarthy seems to have learned a lot from the past, Banks said.
“What makes Kevin so successful and truly the best Republican leader I believe we’ve had in a generation on Capitol Hill, is that he adapts to the conference,” Banks told Breitbart News. “He understands he is the leader of the Republican conference. When I first got here, we had another Republican leader who already had everything figured out. He didn’t adapt to the moment. Kevin McCarthy has adapted to the moment. Kevin McCarthy understands that the Republican Party is changing, and if we’re going to be successful in the future we need to reflect those changes. We can’t erase Donald Trump from the Republican Party and expect to be successful in elections in the future. Kevin McCarthy is the first Republican leader I’ve met who understands that and is fighting to make sure the Republican Party rises to the moment and that’s what I appreciate about his leadership.”
One former Trump White House official said McCarthy is very different to GOP leaders who have gone before.
“Unlike other members of Republican leadership, past and present, who have fought Trumpism tooth and nail, McCarthy has spent the last 4 years working with President Trump and trying to capture the energy of his America First movement to win elections and reshape the GOP as a middle-class workers party. Him and Scalise are the first GOP leadership team in a generation, who aren’t waging war against their own voters and who truly understand where the energy in the GOP is coming from,” the aide said.
Even Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s eldest son, said as much on Twitter after McCarthy’s meeting with the now former president down at Mar-a-Lago:
31 TRUMP DISTRICTS
The first order of business was identifying a list of districts that then-President Trump won in 2016 that Republicans lost in 2018. To retake the House majority in November 2020, McCarthy needed to sell donors, candidates, party committees, media allies, and other power players—including Trump himself—on a pathway back. Republicans in the House were so downtrodden after the post-Ryan shellacking in 2018—41 flipped seats for the Democrats is a lot even in a midterm election for the party out of power—so McCarthy needed to tell everyone there was hope and a plan.
McCarthy identified 31 districts that Democrats represented but Trump won in 2016 and explained that if Republicans flipped 20 seats back as of the summer of 2019 the Republicans would retake the majority in the House. McCarthy then came in in mid-July 2019 to join Breitbart News for an hourlong recorded special at the SiriusXM broadcast center on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. There, he broke down the pathway and identified these 31 districts. That special, which aired on SiriusXM 125 the Patriot Channel in early August 2019, set the tone for future fight ahead where Republicans would defy the odds. At the outset of his new interview in February 2021 for this article, remembered that special as important to the narrative. “You were at the beginning when I would go on and say we were going to win the majority,” McCarthy told Breitbart News.
A few weeks after that special with McCarthy, now Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) won a contested special election in North Carolina to keep a seat that had traditionally been Republican in GOP hands. That district remained outstanding since the 2018 midterm elections after former Rep. Robert Pittenger lost a primary to conservative pastor Mark Harris in 2018, then Harris was accused of ballot harvesting in the 2018 general election which caused election officials in North Carolina to preclude his victory’s certification and force a new special election later in 2019. That September race went to the GOP, even though Democrats contested it heavily, and Bishop has held the seat since. That Bishop win, however, cut the magic number for Republicans to retake the House down to 19 from 20, and was a shot in the arm for McCarthy’s cause.
Around this time, House Democrats began their first doomed-to-fail quest to impeach Trump. Pelosi opened an “impeachment inquiry” where House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) would depose witnesses behind closed doors in the basement of the Capitol in what became known as a “star chamber.” Despite the classified nature of these interviews, constant leaks of damaging material to Trump fueled the Democrat efforts to impeach Trump. They eventually did impeach him on purely partisan lines, and even had some Democrats vote against the measures. One then-Democrat, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, formally left the Democrat Party and joined the GOP over the Democrats’ failed impeachment effort. Trump was later, in early 2020, acquitted by the U.S. Senate where only Democrats voted to convict him on both articles and Romney was the only Republican to vote to convict Trump on one of the two articles. But with Van Drew’s defection in tow—one that has lasted as he has remained a Republican since then—the magic number dropped again, this time to 18. Van Drew’s district was one of those original 31 that McCarthy identified that Trump won that were represented by Democrats, so that number was cut to 30.
‘AMAZING YOUNG CANDIDATES’
Now McCarthy had laid out a plausible pathway mathematically for Republicans to retake the House, the biggest step—which began in early 2019 and continues through the 2020 cycle to this day for the future—was finding quality candidates who could beat incumbent Democrats or hold contested districts. McCarthy fanned out across the country looking for interesting possible U.S. congressmen and congresswomen. Trying to cobble together a majority from so far behind—Republicans needed to really run the tables in November 2020 to win the majority back then if they were going to do it—is difficult. It’s even more difficult when in many of these places McCarthy needed to turn to some people who had never run before for the U.S. Congress or had little national political experience.
“The first strategy was the quality of the candidate,” McCarthy said. “We expanded the playing field of recruiting.”
Recruit, he did. He found people like former local television anchor Iowa’s Ashley Hinson, an Iowa state representative at the time, and then-Oklahoma state senator Stephanie Bice—among many others—to run against sitting Democrat House members. He found Beth Van Duyne, a former mayor of Irving, Texas, who later served as a regional Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administrator, to run for an open seat that Democrats intended to spend millions on try to flip from GOP control to Democrat control. For another Texas seat Democrats sought to flip—the district being vacated by then-retiring now former Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX)—McCarthy found Tony Gonzales, a Hispanic leader and 20-year Navy veteran who served as a cryptologist who literally spent his military career breaking enemy codes, to run to hold that seat. That’s just a small sample of what McCarthy found coast to coast, an impressive feat that definitely caught the eye of other party leaders including Trump.
“Kevin has done an extraordinary job fielding amazing young candidates to be the future face of the GOP in Congress and to bring us one of the most amazing freshman classes in terms of the breadth of skills, experience, and vigilance we have ever seen before,” Stephen Miller, a former senior adviser to the president in Trump’s White House, told Breitbart News. “Kevin understands what it means to be a leader and that’s to rally your troops to fight in unison because he understands that is the only way you can beat the Democrats—to stick together.”
Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA), one of two Korean-American GOP women elected in California this year—the other is Rep. Young Kim (R-CA)—told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview diversity across the board for Republicans was critical.
“It’s not just women but minorities too like Burgess Owens and Byron Donalds,” Steel said. “Then there’s women like Maria Salazar and Nicole Malliotakis, and then Young [Kim] and I are really longtime friends. So I’m just so happy we both won. This did not just happen in the last two years. This is something the Republican Party put efforts into for the last 20 years to recruit qualified candidates and plus they really support the Asian American community—I can talk about efforts by the Republican Party of California to support Asian American women. Every time I had a conference or showed up at the convention doing Asian American meetings, all the leadership showed up and they were very much encouraging us. It’s just not like the last two years or the last four years. It’s 20 years of work that actually the results came out. It’s a big deal, and more needs to happen. But so many women are coming in, and we’re going to recruit our own people—especially Elise Stefanik did a great job getting women in with her PAC. We’re all going to recruit more women especially Asian American women.”
Steel, who noted McCarthy flew in to her district for a fundraiser, said he has been a “wonderful leader.”
Steel is not a native English speaker. In fact, it’s her third language. Her first is Korean and second is Japanese. That, in addition to her accent, she told Breitbart News made it harder to run but McCarthy and the GOP team were helpful to her whenever she needed it.
“What happens is when you’re a candidate, you’re not really sure if you’re doing the right thing or not especially if you haven’t run for Congress before,” Steel said. “Every time I texted them or called, they called me right away and encouraged me. ‘Michelle, you’re doing awesome. You’re doing a great job.’ That really made a difference, and I said ‘oh, I think I’m going the right direction and doing a good job.’ That was really helpful. It’s not just money, but it was the encouragement that made so much difference.”
Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX), who won what she told Breitbart News was “the most expensive open-seat race in the country” with more than $15 million spent against her in the suburban Dallas-area Texas seat she held for the GOP, said that she is honored to be part of the record-breaking class of Republican women taking office in 2021.
“A lot of people are talking about the biggest influx of women and females in this freshman class in our nation’s history,” Van Duyne said in a phone interview. “I’m really proud to be a part of that and I’m especially proud that the women who threw themselves into these races and fought really hard did it not on identity politics or on their gender but on their experience and number of successes in their past and their ability to have a vision people can get behind. I love the fact that we didn’t fall into this identity politics role but instead we talked about our experiences, our strengths, and our skills.”
Van Duyne added McCarthy communicated to her early in the process that if she ran he and the rest of the House Republicans would be supportive.
“I’ll tell you, from the moment I met Leader McCarthy, this was back in the spring of 2019, he was just very supportive,” Van Duyne said. “One of the things you look at before you decide whether you’re going to enter a race is whether you can win. Two, you have to figure out the budget and three you have to figure out if you’re going to be able to get support. He was very clear that I would be a strong candidate and that I should definitely consider putting my hat in the ring and that if I chose to do that they would support me.”
Overall, according to McCarthy’s team, 41 percent of new members who joined the House GOP Conference in 2021 are women, 27 percent are veterans, and 20 percent are minorities. Nationwide, in the 2020 cycle, 228 women, 192 minorities including 64 black candidates, and 259 veterans filed to run for the U.S. House as Republicans—all records. Women may be the biggest story of the cycle, in particular, because nearly 100 more women than the previous record Republicans filed to run—the closest the GOP ever came to the 228 this time around was in 2010 when 133 women ran.
“The most women, a record number of women ever, to win,” McCarthy told Breitbart News. “An interesting fact is every Democrat incumbent we beat was beat by a Republican woman or minority.”
In interviews, several of the aforementioned new members and others described McCarthy’s recruiting efforts too. Bice, who beat now former Democrat Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK) in Oklahoma, said McCarthy’s efforts to find candidates like her swelled GOP ranks with women by more than doubling the number of women in the conference in just one cycle.,
“I think first of all Leader McCarthy made a focus on recruiting quality candidates that were reflective of the country,” Bice told Breitbart News. “You have more diversity in this freshman class than you’ve ever seen. Obviously, a record number of women were elected which is incredible. You went from having 13 women in the conference to now 18 women elected just this cycle. That’s a testament to Leader McCarthy and his team in recruiting a diverse set of candidates in this slate. You also have Native American, African American, Ukrainian—it runs the gamut, it’s pretty impressive.”
Bice said McCarthy’s efforts carried through the whole cycle after recruiting candidates into their races.
“This is really a great example of what happens when leadership comes together and focuses on a sole mission,” Bice said. “McCarthy knew that there was an opportunity for Republicans to make great strides even when people didn’t believe in him and even when people questioned whether or not it could actually happen. He invested in all of us who were running in competitive seats. He came to Oklahoma to show the importance of this race. He came to many of the other battleground districts too. It’s a very possible goal and very achievable goal and we’re just looking forward to taking back the House in 2022.”
Gonzales, who held the heavily-Hispanic 23rd district in Texas, told Breitbart News that McCarthy was there with him from the beginning. “I couldn’t have won this race alone and I’m grateful Kevin McCarthy was there at the beginning and I’m going to need him again if we’re going to win back the House in 2022,” Gonzales said in a phone interview.
Gonzales added McCarthy’s recruiting tactics proved successful across the country. “The messenger matters,” he said. “I’m Mexican-American. I’m Catholic. I’ve got six children and I’m a 20-year combat veteran in a district that is over 70 percent Hispanic. So, if the Republican Party is going to continue to progress and grow we’re going to have to go to communities like these and oh by the way we don’t have to be squishy. I was 100 percent pro-life. I was 100 percent in support of the Second Amendment and the Constitution and would fully support a strong military. You don’t have to be squishy about it. Here’s the deal: You’ve got to fill up. That’s what we did over and over again and people rewarded us with their votes.”
Another one McCarthy recruited was now-Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), the former mayor of Miami-Dade county in South Florida. Gimenez won Florida’s 26th congressional district defeating now former Democrat Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) with nearly 52 percent of the vote. The district had previously gone for Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton by more than 16 percent in 2016, but swung back in 2020 to vote for Trump by more than 5 percent. Gimenez credits McCarthy for getting him in the race in the first place. While Trump had lost this district in 2016, the then-GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL)—a vicious Trump critic and open borders advocate—had won his seat back that year. Curbelo ended up losing in the midterm elections to Mucarsel-Powell by just a few thousand votes. But Gimenez’s candicacy—and ultimate victory in 2020, as well as Trump’s strong performance in South Florida—shocked the political establishment so much that even USA Today wrote that Miami-Dade County “appears to be slowly moving away from its status as a liberal stronghold.”
“I think Kevin had a great deal to do with the process,” Gimenez said on Breitbart News Saturday on SiriusXM 125 the Patriot Channel this weekend. “I can tell you from personal experience that he recruited me. I was a former Mayor of Miami Dade County, at the time I was the mayor of Miami Dade County when he recruited me. I didn’t know what I was going to do, retire or maybe go back to my old seat as commissioner or do something else and I got a call from the Republican National Congressional Committee and was asked would I be interested in running for Congress and frankly it wasn’t on the top of my list and then got to meet Kevin. Kevin expressed to me how important it was to have good candidates and for the Republicans to take over the majority and what we’re fighting for. He convinced me that I needed to do that and that’s why I became a candidate. I think I was the only one that could actually beat the incumbent Democrat at the time because I was such a well-known in Miami Dade County. I had been mayor for nine and a half years and represented over 3 million people in a non-partisan post. This is the first time I have not been in a non-partisan post. Kevin had a heck of a lot to do with it.”
THE THROUPLE IN CALIFORNIA
In late 2019, McCarthy caught a huge break when freshman Democrat Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA), a then-rising star who House Democrat leaders like Pelosi had been leaning on as a potential future party leader, got caught in a nasty sex scandal. Hill was involved in a “throuple” with one of her congressional staffers, and also a separate extra-marital affair with a campaign aide. The scandal forced her resignation, and opened up the district to a special election to be held in the spring in early May 2020.
In that special election, now Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA) defeated Democrat Christy Smith handily despite the election taking place amid the pandemic’s earliest days with mail votes. It was the first time in 22 years that a Republican had flipped a congressional seat in California back into GOP hands after it fell to the Democrats. While the Cook Political Report rates California’s 25th district’s Partisan Voting Index (PVI) as even—meaning there are an even number of registered Republicans and Democrats there—it has swung for Democrats mostly in recent presidential elections. In 2016, Clinton—the Democrats’ failed nominee—won the district by nearly 7 percent. In 2020, Biden won it by more than 10 percent. Despite the GOP presidential woes there, Republicans had held the 25th district for decades prior to Hill’s victory. Republicans feared it would slide out of their hands forever like so many other California districts had before, but Garcia’s win bucked history and broke the trend.
“I had never held a political office before deciding to run for Congress and obviously at the time I saw Katie Hill representing my district which is historically a somewhat conservative district but a large aerospace and defense area and a lot of frankly rational actors in this district,” Garcia said in an appearance on Breitbart News Daily with Alex Marlow on Tuesday morning… “Our state is too good to give up on. We have all of these natural resources and beautiful weather and great people—resources that most states would die for but we’re being driven into the ground by politicians in Sacramento. In this case, we were starting to upload the problems from California to the national level.”
LISTEN TO REP. MIKE GARCIA ON BREITBART NEWS DAILY:
If Bishop’s victory in September 2019 didn’t get the point across before impeachment and the pandemic, Garcia’s win in May set the tone after those developments: House Republicans were on the warpath, and winning districts that even Trump lost as they sought the majority again. It also, just like Bishop’s win and Van Drew’s defection before it, cut the magic number down once more this time to 17 net wins that Republicans needed to retake the House majority.
A little over a month later, Emmer—the NRCC chairman—appeared on Breitbart News Saturday on SiriusXM 125 the Patriot Channel to expand the House target list for Republicans beyond that initial 31 that McCarthy laid out a year earlier. Now, Emmer said, Republicans were gunning for 54 Democrat-held seats. Sure, those original 31 were in the mix, but there was another ring of winnable districts that Trump had lost in 2016 that Republicans identified as potentially competitive.
THE INCUMBENT PROTECTION PROGRAM
One of the keys to mounting a successful bid to retake a majority is limiting or eliminating losses on the back end. Beating 17 incumbent Democrats, which is what Republicans needed to do to win the majority, is tough enough. But doing so without losing anyone already there is even tougher. While Republicans got close to beating those 17—they ended up winning 15, while losing two redrawn districts elsewhere—perhaps one of McCarthy’s biggest achievements was protecting all his incumbents. He did it, too, in a year where Republicans did not retake the House majority but got close, but also lost the White House and their Senate majority. Not one incumbent Republican running for reelection in the general election lost, a feat Republicans had not accomplished in nearly three decades—since 1994—26 years prior.
In addition to Garcia’s seat, Democrats targeted a number of other GOP-held seats nationwide. They went especially hard at longtime Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), hoping to flip his seat into Democrat hands, but failed. Chabot said that McCarthy’s help was critical to his reelection campaign.
“I’m incredibly honored to have won such a convincing reelection victory thanks to the support and confidence of the voters of Ohio’s First Congressional District and a highly-disciplined, well-organized and cutting edge campaign,” Chabot told Breitbart News. “Support from Leader McCarthy and the GOP team also played a key role in helping our campaign overcome Democrats’ more than $2 million spending advantage, push back on their false attacks, and support our campaign’s contrast-defining message.”
Backing up members with donations and campaign support was hardly the only thing McCarthy did to ensure his members won. McCarthy worked with Trump, former senior Trump White House sources said, to get endorsements for several of the House GOP incumbents who faced serious challenges either in primaries or in general elections—and he got in early with the president’s political team. For instance, the morning after the 2020 State of the Union address, McCarthy and his top aides Jeff Miller and Dan Meyer came to the White House residence to meet with Trump and press him to endorse a number of Republican lawmakers. There, McCarthy presented to Trump a list of Republican incumbents who had drawn primary challengers even though they supported him through the impeachment sham from Democrats. That morning’s meeting proved fruitful, a former Trump White House official told Breitbart News.
“Kevin McCarthy asked President Trump to endorse Republican Members of Congress who had a primary – no matter how nominal the challenges may be – to show his support for the House Republican Conference that voted 197-0 to reject the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings,” the former senior official said. “Sure enough, week after week, you’d see batches of primary endorsements from President Trump for those Republican Members of Congress that McCarthy presented to him. And those endorsements proved to be a critical component of those Members’ campaigns.”
TRUMP ENDORSEMENTS FUEL VICTORIES
It was not just incumbents or even just the party nominees that McCarthy worked with Trump to endorse. One by one, Trump endorsements rolled in—even in primaries for open seats—for certain McCarthy-recruited candidates across the country.
The way it worked, Trump White House officials told Breitbart News, is McCarthy would meet with Trump in the Oval Office or the president’s residence at the White House, or on Air Force One during a campaign jaunt. McCarthy had built strong relationships with Trump’s political operation, which consisted of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner as well as Brian Jack, the White House Political Director for the last two years of Trump, and White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino. McCarthy also knew Meadows, the White House chief of staff, from their time in Congress together.
At the meetings with Trump, Jack would prepare a slide deck filled with dozens of slides to help inform the president on races that McCarthy wanted to discuss. The slides included information on candidates’ polling, fundraising, and also importantly statements they had made about Trump himself and his administration’s policies. These meetings and slide presentations produced a number of key endorsements and helped propel key candidates to victory.
“Kevin McCarthy and President Trump would go through each race, one by one, with McCarthy making his asks,” the former senior White House aide told Breitbart News. “President Trump’s early endorsements of Republican women like Ashley Hinson, Michelle Fischbach, Beth Van Duyne and Republican veterans like August Pfluger and Tony Gonzales were the products of those meetings.”
The former Trump aide said that McCarthy was a straight shooter with the president and his political team, never trying to sell someone as pro-Trump when they were not or pull any fast ones on the president.
“Kevin McCarthy earned a reputation as an honest broker within President Trump’s political team,” the former White House official said. “He never crossed them.”
Trump, the aide added, “really enjoyed” the presentations and meetings with McCarthy, noting “they always lasted far longer than scheduled.” The meetings also bolstered Trump’s already-positive views of McCarthy.
“As their relationship grew, President Trump’s first call—on any Congressional race or legislative matter—was Kevin McCarthy,” the Trump White House official told Breitbart News. “And, if you look at the scale of his involvement, President Trump issued more endorsements in Congressional races in 2020 than in 2018 or 2016, and I sense that’s explained by his partnership and trust in Kevin McCarthy.”
McCarthy told Breitbart News that these Trump endorsements were sometimes the difference-maker between a winner and a loser. He cited Trump’s backing of now-Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who won a seat back from a Democrat by defeating now former Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC), and where Gonzales held the Hurd seat in Texas.
“We worked close with the president to get endorsements for incumbents and then even for some open seats like Tony Gonzales, Will Hurd’s old seat that nobody thought we could win, he won by a bigger margin than Will Hurd and never ran before,” McCarthy said. “He won the primary by 20 points, but then he won the general. We made sure we played in almost every single district. We made it competitive throughout the districts. We focused on seats that in a presidential year where the turnout was higher, 2016 versus 2018. Like Nancy Mace, where 30,000 Trump voters didn’t turn out in 2018 but we knew they would want to in 2020. Even the polling wouldn’t show it, and you had a candidate against Lindsey Graham on the Senate side who had $100 million but we stayed on it and kept fighting.”
Some of the endorsements McCarthy helped secure in the primaries for either open seats or races against Democrats proved critical. Trump backed Gonzales in the primary in his race in Texas at McCarthy’s urging, for instance, when he had an opponent supported by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
“McCarthy was supportive from the beginning. Not only did he endorse during the primary, he helped raise money and did events for me but also he just believed,” Gonzales told Breitbart News. “At the beginning of this, everybody was like ‘Will Hurd is the only guy who can win this race.’ Everybody wrote me off. But we won. We won by over four points, 12,000 votes, and I ran on a conservative platform. McCarthy was one of those guys who believed in me from the beginning.”
McCarthy also convinced Trump to support Gimenez in Florida early in the primary, too, as well as several others nationwide. Gimenez said Trump’s support was critical.
“The president played a huge part of it,” Gimenez said on Breitbart News Saturday. “Look, in 2016 President Trump lost my district by 16 points. He won my district by four points in 2020. That’s a 20-point turnaround. A lot of it had to do with President Trump and his being staunch anti-socialist and radical left agenda. There’s a lot of people down here in South Florida that come from either Cuba or Venezuela or down in South America that have been under some of these regimes and know the false promises that socialism gives. They weren’t buying it. A lot of it has to do with recruiting but a lot of it has to do with President Trump. Look, Miami-Dade County, I think in 2016 President Trump lost it by about 20 points and he lost it by, I believe only seven [in 2020]. But if you don’t leave Miami-Dade with a huge cushion as a Democrat, you’ve got no shot. The rest of the state is pretty red. He was able to really eat into that cushion, that’s why he was able to run with that large victory in Florida. It’s got to do with recruiting, it’s got to do with the president’s message, it’s also the message that we delivered, both Maria [Elvira Salazar] and I, and other Republicans in our state, you know, this we are fighting socialism, we’re fighting this very liberal, progressive, extreme agenda from the left.”
‘WE SHATTERED THEM’: FUNDRAISING RECORDS
One of the biggest surprises of the 2020 cycle was just how prolific a fundraiser McCarthy was atop the House Republicans. From the minority, he raised more than $106 million in total in the cycle. No House Republican—whether in the minority or the majority, where it is traditionally easier to fundraise—has ever raised more money than McCarthy did in 2020.
According to McCarthy’s team, he transferred more than $50 million directly to members and candidates through the NRCC and his joint fundraising committee called Take Back the House 2020.
Much of the money McCarthy raised, too, came from the grassroots not from high-dollar donors. With an average donation of $32, he raised $15 million online from more than 430,000 contributions from small-dollar donors. His team told Breitbart News that no House Republican has a larger email or text message list than him, and that he would regularly appear on both Fox News or other rightwing television news channels as well as on talk radio—he made regular appearance on various Breitbart News radio shows throughout the cycle on SiriusXM 125 the Patriot Channel—raising lots that way as well. McCarthy’s team said at least 85,000 people signed up through the Take Back the House website because of conservative media appearances he did, directly leading to at least $3 million of the total amount he raised.
The Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), an outside group affiliated with McCarthy, also raised $77.4 million in the third quarter of 2020—the one right before the election—more than double what it pulled in the same quarter in the 2018 cycle, setting another all-time record.
“We shattered them,” McCarthy said of fundraising records in his interview with Breitbart News. “We were able to raise more—I raised more than anyone as Speaker as the minority leader. Take Back the House was a tremendous help. WinRed was great. I raised in my federal one over $106 million.”
Members who won tough races told Breitbart News that the fundraising help from McCarthy was critical. “The first thing is fundraising because the Democrats and Nancy Pelosi put in $14 million against me,” Steel, from California, said when asked what was key for her. “It’s just amazing. I said to Young [Kim] and other candidates that ‘you should be grateful because they’re attacking me.’ The second thing is leadership. It was teamwork. The first time I was a candidate I was not really sure what I was doing. This was my fifth election but I wanted to win. The other four had different conditions but I won all four.”
Steel said McCarthy joined her in her district for a fundraiser that was critical to her win. “McCarthy flew down and did a fundraiser for me and then flew back in one day,” Steel said. “We had just a few days’ notice but I was just so grateful and Tom Emmer came out. McCarthy has just been a wonderful leader.”
Van Duyne told Breitbart News that the money that national Republicans led by McCarthy sent her way to help her win was key to her victory too.
“Going into a race where in the prior cycle [former Rep.] Kenny Marchant barely got over 50 percent of the vote and the Democrat candidate who ran against him had no national support and no name recognition and spent about $100,000, fast forward two years where the Democrat opponent had—she had so much national support and so much money pouring in from places like California, Chicago, New York, DC,” Van Duyne said. “They dropped over $15 million in this race. Knowing that Leader McCarthy and CLF and the NRCC were behind me, we were able to make some really good strategic decisions that we wouldn’t have been able to do without their support.”
Van Duyne also said in her district it was critical given how expensive the advertising there in the Dallas and Fort Worth markets can be.
“We had over $3.56 million spent against us in just the first week of early voting—just the first week, that’s how much they spent,” Van Duyne said. “So we were spending every dime we got on making sure our message was heard, from broadcast to cable. It’s one of the most expensive media markets in the country. We have how many different markets? Because the district includes Dallas and Fort Worth and everything in between. You can’t just buy one media, you have to buy a bunch of different packages and a lot of them don’t even reach even 10 percent of your voters but in order to cover that you have to buy the whole package. So knowing that CLF was coming in and NRCC was coming in with ads, while we were outspent—we were greatly outspent—it felt like we had the cavalry behind us. Leader McCarthy had warned me back in 2019, he said ‘the last thing that Democrats want is for Republicans to have a diverse set of candidates. Understand, as a woman, they are going to be particularly nasty in campaigning against you. Are you ready for that?’ I looked at him and I said ‘Kevin I have had some nasty campaigns but I’m definitely ready.’ I saw him a week before election day and he asked the same question—he said ‘was it as bad as you thought it was going to be?’ I said, ‘honestly, I thought my mayor’s race was nastier.’ I said ‘that I ran and it was my volunteers who got me through that. This time I had an entire team behind me throughout the country.’ Congressional members donated, I got phone calls just of support, anybody if I had question I could call any of them, they all help with fundraising, they jump on call and they pull some of their supporters in.”
McCarthy was an aggressive campaigner, too. Even with the coronavirus pandemic raging in 2020, he traveled to 45 states spending 107 days on the road doing events, according to his team. In just the final three weeks, he hit 33 separate cities. In total, he directly helped over 170 House GOP members and candidates either campaigning in their districts, hosting fundraisers in DC or elsewhere for them, or holding virtual events or conference calls for them.
“Nobody worked harder to help us win all of those seats to get us close to winning back the majority than Kevin McCarthy did,” Banks, the RSC chairman, said. “In the face of all of the naysayers, the doubters, McCarthy plowed through and pulled out all the stops to raise the money, recruit the candidates, and get us within a stone’s throw of the majority. He deserves enormous credit for that. Overall, my experience with Kevin McCarthy is he is the best Republican leader I’ve ever served with from my time in the statehouse to Congress because he’s a team builder and he pulls everyone around him into the fold and gives everybody a role to play and that’s what makes someone a successful leader.”
THE PROGNOSTICATORS AND PUNDITS CALL IT WRONG
Official Washington fully expected that House Republicans would lose seats—the only disagreement among the so-called experts was how many seats they would lose.
Before the election, the Cook Political Report, for instance, rated 27 races as “toss ups.” All 27 went to the Republicans. What’s more, seven races the organization rated as either “likely” or “lean” Democrat went to the Republicans. In a post-election analysis, Dave Wasserman—Cook’s U.S. House editor—admitted just how wrong his organization got it.
“It’s clear that we and others in our frenzied, polling-addicted sphere misjudged the down-ballot environment more than in any cycle in recent memory and must assess the polls’ (and our own) blind spots before moving on,” Wasserman wrote.
The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics—home of the famed Larry Sabato Crystal Ball—projected that they believed Democrats would net pick up 10 new seats in the House. The Sabato UVA prediction was more than a net 20 seats wrong, as Republicans ended up netting 15 seats.
Fox News even, on election night, falsely projected that Democrats would expand their majority by at least five seats. “The Fox News Decision Desk can now project that Democrats will retain control of the House of Representatives and expand their majority by at least five seats,” anchor Martha MacCallum said live on air on Fox News on Nov. 3. “That’s a major boost for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has pledged to roll back much of President Trump’s first-term agenda if he loses reelection.”
MacCallum—and Fox News—of course were incorrect. The Democrats did keep their House majority, sure, but they lost a more than a dozen seats. Before throwing the inaccurate projection to panelists Dana Perino and Juan Williams for discussion based on it, MacCallum even cited the inaccurate Cook Political Report pre-election projections saying that organization thought Democrats might pick up as many as 15 seats.
Given the fact that Republicans won a net 15 seats in November, and trimmed the House Democrat majority down to just five seats—the current math in the House, where 218 is a majority, is 222 Democrats to 213 Republicans—many of the GOP winners interviewed for this profile relished in the fact that the professional class got it wrong.
“All the grand prognosticators from DC had this lean Democrat and thought they were going to get this House seat,” Van Duyne told Breitbart News.
“I think it just shows that there was a concerted effort by Republicans to really move us in the direction of taking back the House,” Bice added. “Oklahomans, especially me, were not buying into the Democratic rhetoric that was pushed on them. The ideas of things like defunding the police, Medicare-for-All, and for us especially banning fracking. Things like the Green New Deal people just were not buying into. It was just evident in the results. Many of my freshman classmates ran on pushing back on the radical ideology that many of our Democrat colleagues are trying to tout and it seemed to resonate with the voters.”
McCarthy himself was more direct, mocking the inaccurate predictions. “The critics don’t know anything,” the GOP leader told Breitbart News. “Trust the American public. Good candidates with good policy always beats poor policy. The one thing I would tell you is in two years we will win the majority by an even bigger margin.”
The former senior Trump White House official said Trump enjoyed the so-called experts getting it wrong too.
“Even behind closed doors and in private conversations, President Trump and Kevin McCarthy never thought they’d lose seats,” the official said. “They almost relished all of the pundits who mocked them and predicted losses of 5, 10 and 15 seats. But, now we know the result of President Trump’s and McCarthy’s efforts: House Republicans flipped 15 seats and didn’t lose a single incumbent. How’s that for a last laugh?”
Election night was so bad for House Democrats, even though they barely kept their majority, that Roll Call published a piece shortly thereafter detailing how rank-and-file Democrats may revolt against Pelosi over the serious losses. They did not end up doing so, and fell in line as they always do behind her, but the stinging criticism remains. “The 2020 cycle is becoming reminiscent of 2016 in that Democrats have underperformed their own expectations,” Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson and Chris Cioffi wrote on Nov. 4, the day after the election.
A LOOK FORWARD: SPEAKER MCCARTHY?
McCarthy’s successes clearly won him broad support in the House GOP conference, such that every Republican voted for him for Speaker. But 213 votes is not a majority, and Republicans are still five seats away. He and everyone else interviewed for this piece say they are already feverishly working on figuring out how to recapture it in 2022, in the midterm elections.
“We never stopped where we left off,” McCarthy said. “We’re still recruiting good candidates. We are contrasting the Democrats on policy. You look at what Biden is doing right now killing the energy jobs in America, high-paying energy jobs. What he’s doing along the border opening up for open borders. What we need to be doing is focusing on the 10 million Americans who are unemployed and get them a job, get the country back to school, and get everyone who wants a vaccine a vaccine. What Biden is doing is so liberal you would think Bernie Sanders is in charge. We’re going to have a very good contrast. History, the party in power in the White House usually loses up to 30 seats in the first off-year election. Now we also have redistricting and we’re going to watch the redistricting effects with movement of people where Texas and Florida are going to gain and you’re going to see more Republican opportunity than before and with a number of these Democrats who barely won their elections before we’re already going back at it.”
Bice said the key for the GOP to take the House back in 2022 is to “start now.”
“We really have to start looking at those districts that are winnable and finding quality candidates who will put in the hard work and win these seats that Republicans either have won in the past or should have won and try to take them back,” Bice said. “It’s a midterm election cycle as well in 2022, and oftentimes the dynamics are a little bit different in that the party in the White House tends to have a tougher time. I think right now we are going to see policies that people are going to reject again and I think you will see the Republican leadership focus on those races and take the House back.”
On that note, Emmer—the NRCC chairman—has already released a list of 47 districts represented by Democrats that the GOP is targeting in 2022. McCarthy said, too, that while many of the so-called Trump districts flipped back into GOP hands there are still some of those Democrats who need to go. In some places, he said, Republicans will run a second time. He specifically cited Alek Skarlatos, a hero who stopped a terrorist attack aboard a train in Europe who ran in Oregon last cycle, as a possible second-time candidate as well as Sean Parnell of Outlaw Platoon fame in Pennsylvania.
“We still have like seven or seats that Trump won where there is still a Democrat,” McCarthy said. “Even Cheri Bustos who we went after this time—the DCCC chair last time who said she was going to win 20 seats but almost lost her own seat. We got several left in different places like Lamb in Pennsylvania or Cartwright. But with redistricting, it’s going to be a lot of new seats—three new seats in Texas and two new seats in Florida. Wesley Hunt is going to be running again I believe and we’ll be able to pick up that seat this time. There are a number of people who had to run twice to get there like Maria Salazar or Young Kim. I think Alek Skarlatos in Oregon is going to gain a seat, I think he would be perfect up there to gain a seat in Oregon. Sean Parnell, I hope he will run too. These people got so close and there are so many members of Congress where it took two times to win.”
He also said that Trump played a critical role in 2020, and will again in the future.
“The president was helpful and he’s pledged to help again,” McCarthy said. “He’s got a lot of things he’s working on as well but this party is so strong and the tent is so large that the issues of what we have going and what we’re combating of what Biden’s doing making America weaker. I have always believed the Republican Party is made of up ideas and the best ones are going to continue to get promoted and competed on in the marketplace. The Democrats’ continued move toward socialism, more towards the Bernie Sanders, is going to harm this country and the country is going to make a very clear decision that they want to make a check and balance on the Biden presidency and they want to change the direction of the House and make the Republicans the majority.”
McCarthy said that the difference between Republicans and Democrats is the key, and it is something that is playing out every day during the Biden administration.
“We believe in making America energy independent,” McCarthy said. “That means a standpoint of where we were going. It’s good American high-paying jobs. Pipelines are environmentally more sound. But what Biden’s administration is doing is bringing in Russian natural gas when our natural gas is 42 percent cleaner. We believe schools should be open. Watch the Democrats are doing to try to keep them shut. We believe in legal immigration but we’re watching what Biden is doing going down to Mexico and bringing in 25,000 people seeking asylum in the middle of a pandemic and bringing in people on green cards to compete with the 10 million Americans who are out of work. We believe in focusing on the Americans and their jobs. On foreign policy, there’s a great difference. We’ve watched Biden fall to China already, moving back on making colleges notify when the Chinese government is funding their Confucius centers and we’ve watched him pull back on TikTok and getting the facts and data on Americans. We watched the conversation with Xi and the next day they bring the Chinese Coast Guard into Japanese waters. We have watched the movement on Iran and appeasing Iran and not only are missiles flying but they’re going in and having naval operations with Russia. This is a weakness that makes the country weaker. We have watched on the economy where he wants to go in and punish it, raising taxes when we see small businesses are having a hard enough time. We want to get people back to work.”