House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) questioned whether former President Trump is the strongest Republican candidate to run against President Biden in 2024, even as he expressed confidence Trump could beat Biden.
“Can he win that election? Yeah, he can. The question is, is he the strongest to win the election? I don’t know that answer,” McCarthy said on CNBC on Tuesday morning. “But can somebody, anybody beat Biden? Yeah, anybody can beat Biden. Can Biden beat other people? Yes, Biden can beat ‘em. It's on any given day.”
"Squawk Box" co-host Joe Kernen mentioned how Trump’s legal woes are complicating his candidacy. Those include indictments over his handling of classified documents after he left office and a 2016 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
The comments prompted pushback from some on the right, with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon saying on his “War Room” show that Trump made a mistake supporting McCarthy as Speaker.
The Speaker appeared to clean up his comments hours later to Breitbart News, saying that Trump is “stronger today than he was in 2016” and is “Biden’s strongest political opponent,” pointing to his poll numbers.
“As usual, the media is attempting to drive a wedge between President Trump and House Republicans as our committees are holding Biden’s DOJ accountable for their two-tiered levels of justice,” McCarthy told Breitbart. “The only reason Biden is using his weaponized federal government to go after President Trump is because he is Biden’s strongest political opponent, as polling continues to show.”
McCarthy on CNBC had earlier expressed confidence in Trump defeating Biden if he is the GOP nominee.
“Can Trump beat Biden? Yeah, he can beat Biden,” McCarthy said.
“The Republicans get to select their nominee. If you want to go for sheer policy to policy, it’s not good for Republicans; it’s good for America. Trump’s policies are better, straight-forward, than Biden’s policies,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy’s uncertainty about whether Trump is the strongest candidate is notable given how close the Speaker has remained to the former president. Although McCarthy said in the aftermath of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, that Trump bore some responsibility for the attack, he visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago weeks later. Last week, McCarthy backed proposals to expunge Trump’s two impeachments.
But there is skepticism about Trump in McCarthy’s conference. A few members are outwardly critical of the former president in the wake of the indictments, and others have endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
McCarthy has not yet endorsed any candidate in the presidential race, but he has said he might.
Updated at 3:49 p.m.