Rolling Stone: The Secret Money Trail Behind Kevin McCarthy’s MAGA Makeover
Rolling Stone: The Secret Money Trail Behind Kevin McCarthy's MAGA Makeover
The two men stand shoulder to shoulder, posing for the camera almost like father and son. On the left is former President Donald Trump, flashing that money grin, the light glinting off his golden-yellow tie. On the right is the Republican congressman who, more than any other, has hitched his fortunes to Trump and positioned himself to fill the vacuum left at the top of the Republican Party after Trump’s 2020 defeat. To Trump, he’s known as “my Kevin.” To the rest of us, he’s Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California.
For four years, McCarthy dutifully served as one of Trump’s most loyal wingmen in Congress, defending the president after the latest racist tweet, running interference in both impeachment cases, and generally making himself available to do whatever necessary to defend the MAGA cause. When Trump tumbled down the conspiratorial rabbit hole after the last election, McCarthy followed after him, adding his name to a long-shot lawsuit seeking to overturn the result in several blue states and voting to invalidate the vote count in Arizona and Pennsylvania mere hours after the January 6th insurrection. McCarthy’s alliance with Trump has served him well: He now stands at the precipice of becoming the most powerful member in Congress, next in line to be speaker of the House if the GOP wins back the majority in 2022.
Yet McCarthy’s embrace of MAGAdom is rich with irony. Long before he was “my Kevin,” McCarthy was a “Young Gun” conservative, the face of a new generation alongside the likes of Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor (remember him?) that couldn’t be more aligned with big business and the K Street crowd. McCarthy was the swampy Beltway creature that Trump raged against, the kind of Republican who was more at ease at a corporate fundraiser than a tarmac rally, the sort of insider who said behind closed doors that Trump was on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s payroll. (He later said he was joking.)
McCarthy’s extreme MAGA makeover was an awkward one. Yet he didn’t have to do it alone. At a critical moment in McCarthy’s ascent, a network of swampy operatives mobilized in his defense and a mysterious dark-money group carpet-bombed the airwaves to position McCarthy as the heir apparent to lead the Trump-era Republican Party. And when you follow that money, you discover a campaign of deception that’s even phonier than McCarthy’s rebirth as a right-wing MAGA congressman.
This slimy story, which is laid out in documents obtained by Rolling Stone, reveals how a crew of lobbyists, political consultants, and big-money donors seemingly masqueraded as grassroots tea-party populists in a bid to bolster McCarthy’s credibility with Trump supporters. The point of this scheme was to help McCarthy defeat a far-right challenger in an important intra-party election, elevating him to become the House GOP leader and ensuring that a corporate ally remained at the head of the party. For all of Trump’s bluster about draining the swamp, the dark-money campaign to elevate McCarthy shows how the GOP’s corporate enablers not only endured but also adapted their tactics to be murkier than ever – all while ensuring that the future of the Republican Party remained in friendly hands.
And here’s the kicker: The country’s broken election system and the willingness of dark-money groups to push the legal limits mean that the public wouldn’t know about this deceptive campaign to help McCarthy until years later, far too late for anyone to act on it. …
Without real enforcement, the ability of special interests to use dark-money groups to buy influence will only grow. “The real problem here is unfortunately we don’t have a good watchdog agency to enforce against these bad actors,” says Beth Rotman of the clean-government group Common Cause. “Unfortunately, what that means is when groups like this look to see whether they can get away with crossing the line like this, often the answer is yes.”