House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy hauled in an impressive $31.5 million for GOP...

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy hauled in an impressive $31.5 million for GOP candidates' campaigns. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

One hard fact of life often goes unnoticed in the buzz and speculation over legislative politics from Albany to Long Island to Washington: Leaders of elected party caucuses do not need to be popular with the public at large.

Their authority must only be accepted — not even enthusiastically — by the peers who approve them for the job of majority or minority leader.

Unlike governors and presidents, every legislator is expected to be parochial, to represent the interests of one geographic domain. Red-staters in Kansas might not understand how unabashedly socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wins election in the faraway Bronx and Queens. Nor can ordinary New Yorkers necessarily explain how Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia, and others, win election despite erratic and extreme public statements.

Legislative leaders derive power from herding, promoting and channeling their caucuses.

That's key to understanding the recent storm over House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, 57, of Bakersfield, Calif. He was caught on recently revealed audio — in the wake of the failed, undemocratic, blood-spattered attempt at the Capitol to nullify the last national election — expressing distress over then-President Donald Trump's role in the riot.

McCarthy tried to deny what he'd said. But at day’s end, you had to wonder whether McCarthy would face any obstacle beyond scattered griping to becoming speaker if his party takes back the House in the midterms.

In one recording, McCarthy is heard telling Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, now shunned by her party, that he was “seriously thinking” of speaking with Trump about whether the defeated president should resign.

But Trump only had two weeks left in office at that point and, rather than resign or even concede, he stuck with the fiction that he’d been cheated.

At one point, McCarthy privately said of Trump that he'd “had it with this guy." Well, so had most voters; Trump, despite an incumbent's advantage, lost badly to Joe Biden, who many thought was finished in politics. And McCarthy’s distressed mood about Trump's Jan. 6 conduct undoubtedly matched much of his membership.

Nobody knew at the time that all through 2021 and beyond, Trump would still be performing as the GOP’s de facto national party boss. Recently, candidates such as Trump's younger golfing buddy Andrew Giuliani and Rep. Lee Zeldin jockeyed at Mar-a-Lago for a regal blessing in the New York governor’s race.

Ever flexible, the House GOP leader has displayed the kind of fierce loyalty Trump would never return: McCarthy has fought the Democratic majority’s effort to investigate the full breadth of the insurrection.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has exchanged outright venom with the defeated president. Whom would Trump rather have in leadership?

In fundraising for January through March, McCarthy hauled in an impressive $31.5 million for GOP candidates' campaigns. And his side got a break this week when New York's top court struck down a redistricting plan that could have cost Republicans a crucial handful of seats.

To wield power, neither he nor any other speaker needs to poll well nationally or even outside his or her district.

For McCarthy to be toppled, a stronger figure within his caucus would have to come forward. So far, only a couple of McCarthy's mouthy members have publicly complained about his recorded remarks.

Democrats may yearn for congressional Republicans to self-destruct. But they cannot rely on McCarthy to help them.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.