Why Kevin McCarthy thinks he’s already won

Last updated on February 3, 2023

A small group of longtime Kevin McCarthy aides who decamped downtown to lobby are suddenly some of the most influential and sought-after people in Washington. They remain intensely loyal to the new speaker and serve as crucial sources of insight into his thinking and strategy.

Ben Howard, now at the Duberstein Group, was McCarthy’s floor director.He was with him through all of the fraught moments of the John Boehner era, including in 2015 when Boehner retired and McCarthy lost out on securing his job. Howard saw up close how driven McCarthy was to get a second shot at becoming speaker.

“I used to sit in the office with Kevin,” Howard told Ryan Lizza, host of Playbook Deep Dive. “We would dream about this day. We would dream about it.”

But Howard has a bone to pick. He doesn’t like the way that everyone is talking about his old boss. The conventional wisdom about the new speaker is that he gave up everything to secure the job and that he’s one misstep away from losing it if he angers his restive Freedom Caucus colleagues.

According to Howard, that bit of Washington C.W. is wrong.

For this week’s episode of the Playbook Deep Dive podcast, Playbook co-author Ryan Lizza talked to Howard in his Penn Quarter office to understand the view from McCarthy world. They had a wide-ranging conversation about the state of the House GOP, the impact of the rules changes McCarthy agreed to in order to win the gavel, the debt limit faceoff, and McCarthy’s relationship with President Biden.

Oh, and also about that time Howard was chewed out by GOP members for ruining the most famous episode of Game of Thrones.