WASHINGTON, D.C. — Kevin McCarthy spent years raising mountains of Republican campaign cash, flying around the country to recruit top candidates in key districts and painstakingly building political relationships as he worked his way toward becoming speaker of the House.
Now that he’s been ousted from the post after less than nine months, some in the GOP are wondering if anyone can take his place as a fundraising dynamo and party builder.
House Republicans have no clear leader heading into next year’s election as they cling to a razor-thin majority.
“Nobody can raise money like him,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D. “And no matter who is the next speaker of the House, none of them can do what Kevin McCarthy did.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP’s House campaign arm, postponed its upcoming fall gala in Dallas that McCarthy was supposed to headline. The committee said McCarthy helped it raise more than $40 million during the last election cycle and $20-plus million so far this cycle.
The totals were even higher for a McCarthy-aligned super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, which said that it and its associated nonprofits had raised about $645 million under McCarthy. That included about $215 million for the 2020 election, roughly $350 million during last year’s midterm races and around $80 million so far this cycle.
The leadership fund will shift its alignment to follow the new House speaker once one is elected. Paul Ryan replaced fellow Republican John Boehner in 2015. The GOP retained House control the following year when Donald Trump was elected president.
“Speaker McCarthy has fundamentally altered House elections for Republicans through his recruitment efforts, his unmatched fundraising prowess, and his ability to inspire and generate confidence among donors,” Congressional Leadership Fund President Dan Conston said in a statement. “While this is an obvious loss for the House, CLF remains laser-focused on our mission of holding radical Democrats accountable, protecting our vulnerable incumbents, and expanding the House Republican majority.”
As speaker and in his prior years leading the Republicans in the minority, McCarthy was viewed by many as less of a legislator and more of a political tactician who found strong Republican candidates and raised enough money to get them elected and to bolster the national party.
McCarthy visiting a district could often be a major draw, juicing fundraiser proceeds, though that’s a role any new House speaker can grow into.
A bigger test for the next speaker is whether they will be able to raise the same kind of sums as McCarthy for the party’s outside groups, which every year pour millions of dollars into advertising in key races, unburdened by contribution limits for individual campaigns.
“That’s where McCarthy has crushed it,” said Cam Savage, a longtime Republican strategist who works on House races. “He did the heavy lifting for the Congressional Leadership Fund.”
During the 2022 midterms, Republicans underperformed national expectations and eked out a House majority so narrow that McCarthy needed an unprecedented 15 rounds of voting to claim the speakership in January. McCarthy had to remain close to Trump, who is now the front-runner in the party’s 2024 primary, and balance the interests of moderates and hard-right members alike. He ultimately couldn’t.
The revolt against him featured eight Republicans teaming with House Democrats to vote McCarthy out of the speakership. Ironically, McCarthy had campaigned for some of those who eventually helped strip him of the post he’d worked so long to obtain.
“A lot of them, I helped get elected, so I probably should have picked somebody else,” McCarthy joked at a press conference after being forced out.
He may still prove a force in 2024 races. McCarthy has so far suggested that he’ll continue to bolster the GOP nationally, saying, “My goals have not changed, my ability to fight is just in a different form.”
“I intend to make sure that we gain and keep the majority in the next cycle as well,” he said.
House members in both parties said that what happens next will depend greatly on whether the former speaker endorses his eventual successor. That’s because aligning the GOP’s various fundraising mechanisms to the new speaker will likely go far smoother if McCarthy supports his replacement.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Marty Obst, who worked for Trump’s 2020 campaign and has raised money with McCarthy in the past. “The transition is going to be fairly bumpy.”