House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday rejected the possible calamitous effects a Donald Trump nomination could have on the Republican Party, arguing instead that the businessman and political newcomer may improve the chances of GOP House challengers in November.
McCarthy, speaking with reporters after an event in Sacramento, said he compared results of the first nine presidential primaries and found that Republicans turned out in far greater numbers this year than they did in 2008. Meantime, Democratic turnout was way down.
He said the improved intensity levels should help the party’s House challengers across the country and in California, including the 7th District where Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones is taking on two-term Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove. The suburban swing district last cycle produced the nation’s costliest House race.
“I have big hopes that that one is going to be very competitive,” said McCarthy, who has not endorsed a presidential candidate.
In addition to defending a trio of GOP incumbents, McCarthy suggested that despite it being a presidential year where Democratic turnout is generally higher, a Trump nomination could help Republicans expand the map here. McCarthy said the GOP could pick up the seats of Fresno Democrat Jim Costa and San Diego Democrat Scott Peters, and, depending on who emerges from the June primary, also make a run at the Santa Barbara-based seat being vacated by Lois Capps.
“There is four seats you could be competitive in,” with Trump, or any of the other Republican presidential candidates on the ballot, McCarthy said. “They’ve got a challenge inside the Democratic Party right now. Look at Bernie (Sanders) coming back in Michigan. There’s a low intensity level for Hillary (Clinton).”
McCarthy, who previously represented his native Bakersfield as GOP leader in the Assembly, was in town earlier this week with House Speaker Paul Ryan for a fundraiser. Since, McCarthy said he’s been everywhere from Fresno to the Silicon Valley. Seizing on the frustration of the electorate, he said government has made it harder to get capital through over-regulation. And he blamed President Barack Obama for much of the angst that’s escalated over recent years.
“They are at the point now that they want to lash out,” he said.
In the wide-ranging discussion hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, McCarthy touched on national security, innovating government, improving the economy and helping reduce poverty as GOP priorities.
He said he has a hard time watching the presidential debates because they’ve been so light on candidates’ policy prescriptions. He credited the GOP-led House for its work on trade and water legislation and said he sees an opportunity for bipartisan agreements on sentencing reform as well as legislation cracking down on the opioid abuse that’s ravaging the Rust Belt and parts of the East Coast.
“Our desire (for) the House is to become the place of ideas,” he said. “Whoever becomes president, make the debate about policy, so when the election is over we can solve the problems. But the American people decided which way they wanted to go.”