In Home District, McCarthy Faces Some Backlash From the Right

In Home District, McCarthy Faces Some Backlash From the Right

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — As Congress prepared to vote on impeachment for a second time, David Bynum reached out to his former boss — Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader in the House.

Mr. Bynum, 38, was a college intern for Mr. McCarthy more than 16 years ago, when Mr. McCarthy was a rising star in the State Assembly in Sacramento. Mr. Bynum called and texted campaign and D.C. office staffers to urge him, from one Bakersfield Republican to another, to vote to impeach President Trump. A lawyer whose father is a prominent local developer, Mr. Bynum wanted Mr. Trump’s behavior condemned for the history books.

He later asked a campaign staffer how many other calls supporting impeachment Mr. McCarthy was getting from Bakersfield Republicans. “Very few,’’ he was told.

“They said, ‘We’re getting way more calls from people who are upset that he’s not doing more to support Donald Trump,’” Mr. Bynum said.

Some Republicans said Mr. McCarthy, the son of an assistant chief with the Bakersfield Fire Department, has done too much for conservative voters in the region for them to abandon him. They believe his delicate navigation of the events in Washington in recent days — speaking out against impeachment but saying the president bears responsibility for the attack on Congress by rioters — would not hurt him significantly in his district as he eyes becoming speaker of the House in two years.

Mr. McCarthy, now entering his eighth term in the House, has become a kingmaker of sorts in Kern County, helping his allies climb the political ranks, and enjoys a reservoir of good will among Republicans.

Clayton Campbell, a criminal-defense lawyer who is a leader of the Kern County Republican Party, said his support for Mr. McCarthy was unshaken.

“You’re going to have some Republicans who like Trump so much that this is going to be a deal breaker for them,” Mr. Campbell said, referring to Mr. McCarthy’s support of censure and assertion that Mr. Trump bears responsibility for the attack on the Capitol. “I don’t think that’s a majority. You’re also going to have other Republicans who feel that McCarthy has been our leader for so long, and he’s never let us down, and they’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

But the events of this month in Washington have brought Mr. McCarthy, 55, more criticism than he is accustomed to in his hometown.

Perhaps the biggest political blow came locally on Friday.

His Republican mentor, Bill Thomas, the former longtime Bakersfield congressman who was the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and whom Mr. McCarthy worked for as an aide, rebuked Mr. McCarthy on local television. Mr. Thomas, wearing a mask, said that Mr. McCarthy perpetuate the president’s false claims of election fraud after the riot by refusing to certify the results.

“Six hours after this tragedy, the Republican leader argues Pennsylvania had fraud,” Mr. Thomas said, adding, “It was as though they went to an extended lunch and came back and resumed their mission — reinforce, by your votes, the lies of the president.”

“He didn’t tell people to riot,” Mr. Campbell said of the president. “He didn’t say go into the Capitol and trash Nancy Pelosi’s office. We saw all summer that there were people in this country that resorted to violence, rioting, to try to get what they wanted politically. And nobody that they were rooting for politically was blamed for what they did. They were never called Biden riots.” (Joseph R. Biden Jr., the president-elect, condemned the rioting and looting that occasionally grew out of the protests).

In the country’s largest Democratic-controlled state, Bakersfield can feel like an alternate reality.

Just two hours north of Beverly Hills, a conservative culture rules the city. Bobbing oil pump jacks dot the landscape like a page out of West Texas, out near a boulevard named for the country star and hometown hero Buck Owens.

But the city’s dusty Okie stereotype feels outdated — its population of nearly 400,000 is majority Hispanic. Those demographic shifts have started to change Bakersfield, giving Hispanics and Democrats more voice and creating more political tension. Julie Solis, a Democrat who ran for an assembly seat in November, was arrested for trespassing at Mr. McCarthy’s Bakersfield office on Monday, after calling for his resignation, refusing to leave and livestreaming it all on Facebook.

Indoor dining is banned throughout most of California as coronavirus infections and deaths have skyrocketed in the state. But several Bakersfield restaurants openly defy the rules, which are not strictly enforced, and residents gather nightly at restaurants to dine indoors and outside on patios. Though many people wear masks, the anti-lockdown views are a kind of echo of Bakersfield’s embrace of Mr. Trump’s defiant ethos.

Mr. McCarthy has had one advantage in the post-riot and post-impeachment aftermath. One of his San Joaquin Valley colleagues, Representative David G. Valadao, whose district includes a portion of Kern County, voted to impeach the president. The far right, both nationally and locally, have focused much of their anger on Mr. Valadao instead of Mr. McCarthy.

Mr. Bynum, the former McCarthy intern, said even though Mr. McCarthy did not vote the way he wanted him to, he still supported the congressman.

“He kind of has to do a dance that can’t be done,” Mr. Bynum said. “You can’t make everyone happy in the Republican Party right now. There’s no broad consensus on how to be punitive enough to Trump but also supportive enough of him.”

Mr. Bynum said Mr. Trump has severely damaged the party. Back in the presidential election in 2016, he felt he had no candidate to support.

“I didn’t want to vote for Hillary,” Mr. Bynum said. “I didn’t want to vote for Trump. I wrote in Kevin McCarthy for president. I saw Kevin that night and said, ‘Kevin, I voted for you twice.’”

Isabella Grullón Paz contributed reporting.


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