McCarthy’s biggest conservative critics have something important in common

McCarthy’s biggest conservative critics have something important in common

Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s biggest headaches in the spending fight that’s consuming Washington have one thing in common: They’re coming from House Republicans who are openly eyeing the Capitol exits.

As a shutdown fast approaches, McCarthy is in the fight of his political life against familiar conservative foes led by Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) and Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.). Those four hardliners are among the loudest critics of the speaker — and the most vocal in their threats to try to remove him from power.

Gaetz, Norman, Bishop and Rosendale are all building up their political profiles for eventual statewide campaigns, rather than a long career in the House.

Out of the quartet, only Bishop has officially announced a run: He’s currently locked in a primary for state attorney general in 2024. Rosendale, however, is widely expected to enter the GOP primary for the right to challenge Sen. Jon Tester (R-Mont.) this cycle.

The other two are playing the long game; Gaetz is weighing a run for Florida governor in 2026, while Norman is mulling a primary challenge to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in that same cycle.

The foursome is hardly the first group of lawmakers whose higher ambitions have fueled attention-grabbing clashes with their party’s leadership as they seek a wider audience. Yet the stakes couldn’t be higher for McCarthy and his team right now, with the speaker only able to lose a handful of votes as he tries to steer his party away from a Sept. 30 shutdown cliff — without inspiring his far-right flank to try to strip his gavel.

Bishop, the first House GOP conference member to float an ouster effort against McCarthy after the spring debt ceiling deal, is now going even further — by floating that he is privately discussing an alternative candidate to replace the speaker.

“I know who the right person is, but I’m not going to give voice to it,” Bishop told POLITICO when asked about whether McCarthy skeptics have a consensus replacement in mind. “I have muttered it to a couple people and have found, surprisingly, that they have been thinking very much the same thing.”

This week has put GOP leaders publicly at odds with one of more of the four higher-office-inclined Republicans at any given time.

Three out of the four — Bishop, Norman and Rosendale — caused a humiliating setback for McCarthy and his leadership team on the floor on Tuesday, derailing a defense spending bill that the vast majority of the conference supports. (Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, another Republican who voted against the measure, is eying a TV contract when he ultimately retires from the House.)

Gaetz, who has a massive military presence in his district, voted to advance the defense bill. But his name was attached to a draft piece of legislation calling for McCarthy’s ouster left in a Capitol bathroom — a sign that he’s ready to make good on a threat he has signaled for months.

House Republicans see Gaetz’s actions this week as proof of his future ambitions. He has launched various public attacks against Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a key negotiator of the House GOP’s spending plan who is seen as a likely rival in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.).

In front of GOP colleagues, journalists and conservative commentators, Gaetz is aggressively trying to nickname the flailing fiscal deal the “Donalds CR” — what other House Republicans view as an attempt to create future fodder for a race against his fellow Floridian.

Look no further than a 60-second floor speech Gaetz gave on Monday, where he mentioned Donalds’ name at least four times while tying him to the framework brokered by two other members of the conservative Freedom Caucus as well as three Republicans in the more centrist Main Street Caucus.

Still, Gaetz denies he is running for governor already. He called an NBC report of his mounting interest “overblown.”

As for Donalds, his GOP allies say he appeared surprised by Gaetz’s rhetorical assault. He raised it with his Freedom Caucus colleagues in a closed-door meeting on Monday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Asked about the sniping, Gaetz on Tuesday replied: “I’m a big fan of Byron Donalds. He’s my friend, and I think he’s terribly misguided.”

Jordain Carney contributed.

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