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Trump calls on his supporters to stand down on McCarthy opposition

DALLAS, TEXAS - AUGUST 06: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. CPAC began in 1974, and is a conference that brings together and hosts conservative organizations, activists, and world leaders in discussing current events and future political agendas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Donald Trump has weighed in on the contentious battle confronting GOP leader Kevin McCarthy in his bid to be the chamber’s next speaker, with the former president calling on his supporters in Congress to halt their opposition tactics against McCarthy and stop “playing a very dangerous game.”

“Look, I think this: Kevin has worked very hard. I think he deserves the shot,” Trump said Friday in an interview with Breitbart News. “Hopefully he’s going to be very strong and going to be very good and he’s going to do what everybody wants.”

The former president cited the scenario from 2015, when then-House Speaker John Boehner resigned after clashes with conservative GOP hard-liners and was then replaced by Paul Ryan.

“It’s a very dangerous game. Some bad things could happen. Look, we had Boehner and he was a strange person but we ended up with Paul Ryan who was ten times worse,” Trump told Breitbart. “Paul Ryan was an incompetent speaker. I think he goes down as the worst speaker in history.”

McCarthy is in a fight for the speakership with five hardline Republicans opposing him. With House Republicans holding 222 seats in the next Congress, such opposition would deny him the 218 votes he’d need to be elected speaker.

McCarthy has negotiated behind closed doors over chamber rules that his detractors want to weaken the speakership, including allowing an individual member to call for a vote to oust the speaker. That’s something the California Republican has resisted so far.

McCarthy and Trump had a brief falling out following the January 6, 2021, insurrection, with McCarthy even suggesting on a private phone call that was recorded that Trump should resign. But the two quickly made amends with McCarthy traveling to meet Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida just a few weeks later.

In his interview with Breitbart, Trump didn’t name those lawmakers who oppose McCarthy’s speakership bid but said he is “friendly” with many of them and they are supporters of his.

“I’m friendly with a lot of those people who are against Kevin. I think almost every one of them are very much inclined toward Trump, and me toward them. But I have to tell them, and I have told them, you’re playing a very dangerous game,” Trump said. “You could end up with some very bad situations. I use the Boehner to Paul Ryan example. You understand what I’m saying? It could be a doomsday scenario.”

McCarthy said Friday that the five conservative holdouts — Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Bob Good of Virginia and Matt Rosendale of Montana — have not budged in their opposition to him and offered dire warnings that House Republicans’ hard-fought narrow majority could be derailed if they don’t bend.

“We’re still continuing to talk, but they have not moved,” McCarthy told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, taking to the airwaves to argue that the detractors threaten to put the entire House Republican agenda in peril and that basic decisions on legislating and investigating will be “all in jeopardy.”

McCarthy’s comments represent a sharp escalation in his public pressure campaign against critics, including Biggs, who last week announced his own bid for the speaker’s gavel.

And Trump isn’t the only one signaling to House Republicans to get in order. The conservative-leaning editorial board of The Wall Street Journal wrote Saturday that those looking to take down McCarthy “don’t seem to have any constructive reason to oppose Mr. McCarthy beyond a desire to grab the media spotlight or blow everything up.”

Delving into “GOP dysfunction since Election Day,” the editorial board said, “Republicans are the gang that couldn’t shoot straight — except at one another.”