NEW YORK (AP) — Most of the top Republican candidates running for president in 2024 reacted grimly to the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy by a faction of hard-liners in their own party, while one contender embraced the chaos and the front-runner for the nomination notably did not denounce the move.
Many agreed that it was a clear sign that new leadership was needed, not just in the House of Representatives but also in the party as a whole.
Former President Donald Trump, who has shown an unabashed willingness to go after his fellow Republicans, asked: “Why is it that Republicans are always fighting among themselves?”
He has not weighed in on whether McCarthy, an ally, should have been removed by a flank of the party also closely aligned with him, though he did say Wednesday that he had not encouraged the effort.
McCarthy’s downfall as House leader is in many ways a reflection of how Trump’s influence has upended and reshaped the party over the years. Almost nowhere is that influence more apparent than in the 2024 GOP presidential race, which polls show Trump is leading by a large margin.
Trump, speaking Wednesday outside the New York courtroom where he is facing a civil fraud trial, said that his focus is on his presidential campaign and that there are “some great people” in the party who could do a great job in the role.
“I’ll do whatever it is to help, but my focus — my total focus — is being president and quite honestly, making America great again because we are living in a country in decline.”
On his social media network Wednesday afternoon, Trump posted an image of himself doctored to appear as if he was sitting in the House speaker’s chair, holding the speaker’s gavel while wearing his red “Make America Great Again” hat. He posted it without comment.
Former New Jersey Gov. Christie, a presidential rival and one of Trump’s strongest critics, called McCarthy’s ouster “unfortunately incredibly predictable” and a “political assassination.”
Christie, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday, said he would tell voters who think his party seems ungovernable that “you’ve got to judge each Republican on their own merits.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence described the House leadership turnover as a distraction.
“Well, let me say that chaos is never America’s friend. And it’s never a friend of American families that are struggling,” he said Tuesday at a national security and foreign policy event at Georgetown University co-hosted by The Associated Press.
Pence said he was “deeply disappointed that a handful of Republicans would partner with all the Democrats in the House of Representatives to oust the speaker of the House.”
He said the ouster was “political performance art” and highlighted the need for new leadership in Washington.
His comments were largely echoed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had been critical of McCarthy but called his removal “a lot of theater, a lot of chaos.”
“It’s a strong contrast to how we do business in Florida. I think you see a lot of theater, a lot of chaos. I’m not sure it ever leads to any results,” DeSantis said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show Wednesday morning.
“We just need leadership. We need to put leaders out there, deliver for the folks that we represent. I think that we need order. We need smooth government operations, and we need to deliver results.”
Meanwhile, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy welcomed the chaos.
Ramaswamy, a candidate who has seemed to embrace taking provocative positions on issues, said the status quo was not acceptable and the party first needed a plan to address issues like the national debt.
“Was the point to sow chaos? Yes, it was,” Ramaswamy said in a video posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. “But the real question to ask is whether chaos is really such a bad thing in times such as these.”
Meanwhile, Trump did not rule out the possibility that he might consider serving as House speaker himself. The U.S. Constitution does not specify that the speaker of the House be an elected representative of a congressional district, but all of them have been.
“A lot of people have been calling me about speaker. All I can say is we’ll do whatever’s best for the county and for the Republican Party,” Trump told reporters as he arrived in court.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.