Republicans in the US House of Representatives fear that the rebellion that removed Kevin McCarthy as the chamber’s Speaker this week will damage their 2024 re-election hopes, as they prepare to campaign without the party’s prolific fundraiser at the helm.
McCarthy was considered a critical rainmaker for Republicans, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for candidates around the country while keeping tight control over the House GOP’s messaging, recruitment and strategy to secure funds.
In the 2022 election cycle, two McCarthy-aligned groups — the National Republican Congressional Committee and Congressional Leadership Fund — raised a combined $550mn on behalf of House Republican candidates, far more than the hauls of previous GOP leaders.
Now that crucial money flow is at risk.
“I think it will go down as the single stupidest decision ever made in politics,” said Mike Lawler, a Republican representative who won a district in New York in 2022 by fewer than 2,000 votes, referring to the revolt that ousted McCarthy this week.
In a dramatic afternoon in the lower chamber on Tuesday, members voted 216-210 to unseat McCarthy — the first time in history a House Speaker had been removed from the post. Eight Republicans voted with 208 Democrats to secure their party leader’s defeat.
“I think they not only undermined the conference, and our majority, but they undermined the political infrastructure behind it completely,” Lawler told the Financial Times.
Republicans’ financial edge in certain races was pivotal in helping the party eke out a tiny majority in the House. The dominant ad spender in Lawler’s district was CLF, which poured $6.5mn into spots for the candidate, while his own campaign spent less than $600,000 on ads, according to AdImpact data.
“It’s going to take a lot to rebuild this,” Lawler said.
Republicans will elect a new leader in the coming weeks, with House majority leader Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan, a fierce defender of former president Donald Trump, among those battling to succeed McCarthy.
While neither can yet claim to be his moneymaking equal, Scalise has raised far more than Jordan. In 2022, Scalise’s campaign gave $15mn to the NRCC, the official group working to elect House Republicans, while Jordan’s campaign gave $1mn. Other Scalise-affiliated groups donated millions more.
Scalise has a deeper relationship with the Republican donor community, including Tim Mellon, who has given $5mn to CLF this election cycle, more than any other individual donor, according to the latest federal filings.
A person close to Mellon said the influential conservative wanted Scalise to be House Speaker and Jordan to continue leading the judiciary committee, which has launched investigations into the business conduct of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and the administration’s immigration policies.
“Mr Mellon is a longtime supporter of leader Scalise’s ascension in House leadership and will continue that support into Scalise’s race for the speakership and as Speaker of the House,” said the person close to Mellon.
Jordan’s supporters said he could also raise sizeable sums of money — and noted that Scalise’s fundraising team had repeatedly asked to put the far-right Freedom Caucus founder’s name on his mailers to raise money. A Scalise political aide asserted in response that of the $90mn Scalise had raised online, copy including Jordan’s name raised about $230,000.
“I would tell every Republican member of Congress that they should be inviting him to their districts,” said Rick Green, a Massachusetts GOP donor and auto parts magnate, who has invited Jordan to fundraise. “I think he would make a phenomenal Speaker.”
On Friday, Jordan also won the backing of former president Trump, who wrote on social media that he would be “a GREAT Speaker of the House, & has my Complete & Total Endorsement!”.
But both McCarthy’s detractors and supporters realise that no one might be able to match his blistering pace for the rest of the 2024 campaign.
Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman who led the charge to remove McCarthy from the Speaker’s chair, acknowledged in a Time magazine interview last year: “Kevin McCarthy is the most elite fundraiser in the history of the Republican caucus.”
CLF president Dan Conston said the former Speaker “fundamentally altered House elections for Republicans through his recruitment efforts, his unmatched fundraising prowess, and his ability to inspire and generate confidence among donors”.
Democrats are taking advantage of the unprecedented overthrow, labelling Republicans as the party of “chaos”. Many McCarthy donors will now look to him for advice on what to do next.
“It’s really beyond words how upset I am,” said James Parks, a big California Republican donor. “I’m going to ask for a little bit of guidance from him.”
This week, McCarthy said he understood why Democrats voted to boot him from the Speaker’s chair.
“I raise 70 per cent of all the money. It’s an opportunity for them. The real question [is] to the eight: Why did you enable them and allow the Democrats to do it?”