Why Kevin McCarthy is suddenly changing his tune on Ukraine


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Like most Republican politicians these days, Kevin McCarthy has no real positions of his own, and merely adopts whatever positions he thinks will get him ahead. To that end he’s spent months trying to split the difference when it comes to Ukraine. He’s supported some aid to Ukraine, but he’s also tried to make a point of falsely accusing President Biden and the Democrats of wanting to give too much support to Ukraine.

But now McCarthy is changing his tune. He’s inexplicably in Israel today, as part of his attempt at making himself look like a world stage leader. McCarthy took a question from a Russian reporter, who appeared to assert that McCarthy doesn’t support Ukraine. McCarthy jumped on this and came out emphatically in support of Ukraine, and implied that he’s always supported giving Ukraine as much aid as it wants.

It wouldn’t be fair to call this a flip flop, since McCarthy never really had an anti-Ukraine position to begin with. But he’s certainly changing his tune. And that’s not surprising. In order to keep his own unhinged extremist House Republican caucus from ousting him, he’s staked himself to a number of unpopular positions. These positions may play well in the right wing districts that the biggest loons in the House represent, but these positions play poorly on a national level.

That’s left McCarthy with essentially no leverage at all when it comes to negotiating things like the budget battle. Your popularity with the American people is the only leverage you have in these kinds of stalemates. Biden is winning the budget battle just by virtue of being fairly popular, because McCarthy has virtually no popularity at all.

So it’s not surprising to see McCarthy now trying to pivot to a position on Ukraine that’s more popular with the American people. If McCarthy can’t find a way to endear himself to mainstream Americans, he’ll lose every battle of wills against Biden and the Democrats.

The trouble is, this new Ukraine position puts Kevin McCarthy directly at odds with Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has loudly staked herself to the position that Ukraine is a villain and that any aid to Ukraine is a waste. McCarthy can’t survive as Speaker if Greene, and her cohorts in the House, turn against him. Yet McCarthy appears to also understand that he can’t survive if he sticks to the unpopular positions that Greene wants him to take. It’s a classic no win situation for McCarthy, who wouldn’t have the wits to figure out how to succeed even if he weren’t facing such a narrow tightrope.

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