In an interview on CNBC, Mr McCarthy said Mr Trump can beat Mr Biden but that he’s not sure another Republican couldn’t do better.
“Can he win that election? Yeah, he can,” Mr McCarthy said. “The question is, is he the strongest to win the election? I don’t know that answer. But can somebody, can anybody beat Biden? Yeah, anybody can beat Biden.”
Mr Trump is, at this point, the candidate most likely to prevail in an increasingly crowded Republican primary field for the chance to take on Mr Biden. The former president, despite facing two indictments, is leading early polls of the primary race by a wide margin. In recent weeks, he’s increased his lead over second-placed Gov Ron DeSantis of Florida.
But some Republicans are concerned with Mr Trump’s ability to win a general election. Polls indicate that Mr Trump is deeply unpopular with the public, with a majority of Americans holding an unfavourable view of the former president. Mr Trump has already lost one election to Mr Biden, and he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 as well, despite prevailing in the Electoral College.
Since then, Mr Trump’s legal issues have mounted. The former president is under indictment in New York for his alleged role in a hush money payment scheme, and under federal indictment in Florida for allegedly mishandling classified documents and refusing to return them to the federal government when asked.
Mr Trump could face still more legal trouble in the months to come over his attempts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election. Mr Trump was impeached for inciting the riot at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, which was the second time he was impeached during his term as president. The Senate didn’t confirm either impeachment, which means Mr Trump is still eligible to run for president.
Mr McCarthy did not say that any of Mr Trump’s challengers would make a better general election candidate than Mr Trump; indeed, Mr DeSantis also has poor favourability ratings.
Still, Mr McCarthy’s suggestion that Mr Trump may not be the strongest candidate is notable if only because the California representative has long been one of Mr Trump’s most vocal allies in Republican leadership — famously aiding his political rehabilitation by visiting him at Mar-a-Lago just weeks after the Capitol riot.