More than any speaker before him, Kevin McCarthy has made his mark as a political operative. As a sophomore in 2009, the Bakersfield Republican dove head-first into his role as the NRCC's recruitment chair, traversing the country and ultimately helping flip 63 seats. He's unofficially remained in that capacity ever since as he's climbed the GOP leadership ranks, culminating in raising $259 million during the 2022 cycle to flip the House majority.

Whereas past speaker aspirants were content to hover above the primary fray for fear of making enemies, McCarthy's deep, behind-the-scenes immersion in every race was part of a grand strategy to build up personal chits, elevate talented candidates who would be reliable leadership allies, and—where necessary—marginalize those who could give him problems. But as last week revealed, that dizzying devotion to politics carries risks too.

When the large "governing majority" McCarthy sought failed to materialize in November, he was left straining for votes from members who hadn't received his favor—laying bare the conference's divisions and forcing him to make painful concessions to the right.

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