“Kevin’s done a very good job of being in position to become the speaker,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition. “And then the question is, ‘what do you do with that?’ This helps as a road map.”
McCarthy, who is poised to regain the speaker’s gavel if Republicans win control of the House in the fall, hopes to replicate the strategy former Speaker Newt Gingrich used to spark voter enthusiasm and sweep House control in a 1994 landslide.
That election forced then-President Bill Clinton to pivot sharply toward the center after first undertaking a more progressive agenda that had included First Lady Hillary Clinton’s overhaul of the health-care system.
The GOP, however, squandered some of its political capital under Gingrich with the impeachment hearings surrounding Clinton’s sexual trysts. They failed to get a conviction in the Senate, and the backlash proved costly, forcing the resignation of Gingrich and several other top Republicans.
The 1998 midterm election saw Democrats gain seats—a rare feat for the party holding the White House, which was seen as a repudiation of the impeachment.
While Republicans in the next Congress are likely to settle scores and attempt to hold President Joe Biden and others accountable for their unparalleled political corruption, McCarthy’s plan acknowledges that their success in the leadership spot will require more than simply campaigning as the alternative party.
It also neutralizes one of the few points of attack that Democrats may have in a year where voters are likely to punish them for their radical overreach with another red wave.
“They talk about a lot of problems,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “They don’t have a lot of solutions.”
The House GOP’s “Commitment to America” gives a nod to that earlier era but updates it to include several of the priorities pursued by the former Trump administration: economic, border security and social policies to rouse the deep well of MAGA supporters in often-forgotten regions like this rusty landscape outside Pittsburgh.
“We have a plan for a new direction for America,” McCarthy told the Associated Press.
On Friday, the House Republican leader will stand with other lawmakers to roll out the GOP agenda, offering a portrait of party unity.
“If you are a hardline, populist, and you really want anger, Kevin’s a little frustrating because he’s not going to be angry enough for you,” Gingrich said. “On the other hand, if what you want is to have your values implemented and passed in the legislation, he is a really good leader and organizer.”
As Democrats court the elite corporate Establishment once seen as a Republican mainstay, the GOP has shifted from its focus to a more populist platform, essentially still led by Donald Trump.
With momentum shifting strongly in their favor as the midterm election approaches, Republicans need to pick up just a few seats to win back control of the narrowly-split House, and replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But even so, McCarthy’s ability to lead the House is far from guaranteed. A long line of Republican speakers, including Gingrich, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, have been forced from office or chose early retirement, often ground down by party infighting.
“House Republicans are really good at running people out of town,” said Schlapp.
McCarthy, first elected to office in 2006, is among the remaining political survivors of those House Republican battles, and he’s a new style of leader who has shown more ability to communicate than to legislate.
A key architect of the Republican “tea party” takeover in 2010, the California Republican personally recruited the newcomers to Congress—many of whom had never served in public office and are long gone.
McCarthy was an early Trump endorser, and has remained close to the former president, relying on his high-profile endorsements to propel GOP candidates for Congress. He abandoned an earlier bid to become speaker when support from his colleagues drifted.
The “Commitment to America” reflects the strength of McCarthy’s abilities. He spent more than a year pulling together the House GOP’s often warring factions to produce a mostly agreed upon agenda.
The one-page “commitment” preamble is succinct, essentially a pocket card, though it is expected to be filled in with the kind of detail that is needed to make laws.
Gingrich has been working with McCarthy and his team to craft the style and substance of the proposal. The former speaker was on hand Thursday in Washington, joining McCarthy as he unveiled the plans privately to House Republicans, who have been mixed on the approach.
Mostly, the GOP pocket card hits broad strokes—energy independence, security and an end to liberal social policies, particularly in schooling.
Conservative Republicans complain privately that McCarthy isn’t leaning hard enough into their priorities, as he tries to appeal to a broader swath of voters and hold the party together.
Many are eager to launch investigations into the Biden administration and the president’s family, with some calling for impeachment.
Dozens of House GOP lawmakers signed on to plans from Trump-aligned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. to prevent many gender reassignment procedures for minors.
She and others were invited to join Friday’s event, as McCarthy seeks their backing.
Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, has advocated for withholding federal funds as leverage for policy priorities, the tactic that led to past government shutdowns.
“Putting out like, you know, principles about, ‘Well, we’ll secure the border.’ I mean, OK, but what are we gonna do about it?” Roy said. “The end of the day, I want specific actionable items—that’s going to show that we’re going to fight for the American people.”
In traveling to battleground Pennsylvania, McCarthy intends to counter the president’s Nazi-like “Red Sermon” on Labor Day weekend, in which the president, using his official soapbox for a campaign-style rally, sounded a false alarm about rising GOP extremism, effectively alienating all of Trump’s 75 million voters by painting “MAGA Republicans” with a broad brush.
Republicans believe they can pick up as many as five House seats in Pennsylvania. The state also has one of the most watched Senate races, between Trump-backed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz and Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has declined to put forward an agenda, preferring to simply run against Biden and Democrats in the midterm election.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press