Issues & Insights

Kevin McCarthy, Meet Fredo Corleone


Fredo Corleone: “Mike, I’m your older brother. I was stepped over!”

Michael Corleone: “It’s the way Pop wanted it.”

Fredo: “It ain’t the way I wanted it!  I can handle things, I’m smart.  Not like everybody says – like dumb. I’m smart, and I want respect!” The Godfather, Part II

Poor Fredo. It was his turn. Hothead Sonny was dead, and he was next in line. Michael, in exile, had wanted no part of the family business. Fredo, unlike untrustworthy, outcast brother-in-law Carlo, was the blood relative always in the room. With his father when, set up by sniffling, sniveling Paulie, the Godfather was brutally attacked.

And Fredo was smart: kept his counsel when Sonny recklessly revealed his eagerness for Sollozzo’s drug finance deal. He could handle things: sent to befriend and “learn the casino business” from Moe Greene as the Family muscled into Sin City, the in-the-know gladhander arranged a proper Vegas greeting for super-square Michael. And was entrusted with entertaining important guests as the old hand in Cuba.

2023 was Kevin McCarthy’s turn, too. Loyal soldier for two previous Speakers upon his 2010 election as Majority Whip helping lead opposition to Barack Obama. The logical choice for Majority Leader after ill-fated Eric Cantor shockingly booted a primary.

Dutifully fell on his sword in 2015 when hapless John Boehner stepped aside, withdrawing from the Speaker’s race upon recognizing he couldn’t garner 218 votes.

As continuing Majority Leader, and later in the minority, sucked up and stuck by Donald Trump, in particular on the Orange Man’s tax cuts and Obamacare repeal efforts. Spoke out on potential voter fraud in 2020 and signed an amicus brief challenging election results.

And McCarthy too is “smart” and “can handle things.” Didn’t he orchestrate the “Commitment to America,” 2022’s version of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract,” checking all the boxes on themes including inflation, energy independence, border security, crime, parental voice, confronting Big Tech and China? And display the knack to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to elect Republicans?

But Fredo was “stepped over” for a reason: just as Tom Hagen was dismissed by Michael as “not a wartime consigliere,” Fredo was not the “Wartime Don” needed as an alliance of Young Turks entering the “dirty” drugs business with cold, unscrupulous Old Bulls upset the old order.

Fredo lacked Michael’s cool courage, fumbling with his gun as his father fell, while his younger brother’s firm hand lit the petrified Enzo’s cigarette as goons closed in.

Was deficient in judgment: Fredo missed the threat when Paulie called in sick and was later used by Hyman Roth. Whereas Michael saw through opponents’ treachery: Roth’s and earlier, Tessio’s and Carlo’s.

Most important, Fredo fell short in fearless conviction and devotion to the cause when faced with temptations from rich, powerful opposition forces. Unwittingly conspired in a hit on Michael because there was “something in it for me.” And stood up for the oily Greene, only to be put in his place by the new Don: “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.”

In another time and another Family – perhaps the Tattaglias, headed by vain, ineffectual “pimp” Philip – Fredo might have been propped up as Don. But he could never have pulled off the bold, brazen, brutal blood-letting necessary to re-establish the Corleones’ leadership among the Five Families and secure its future.

You know where this is going: Kevin McCarthy is thrashing, at this writing, in his latest run for Speaker. Because, like Fredo, he is not the Wartime Don Republicans need to counter the radical Squad’s scorched-earth transformation of America, abetted by the Uniparty’s Old Bulls.

McCarthy’s very flailing, fumbling attempts to lock down the Speakership belie the cool courage in the line of fire required to lead a raucous caucus with the narrowest of majorities.

Lack of judgment? Displayed by ill-considered remarks that blew up not only the narrative on the Benghazi committee’s apolitical goals but his own prior Speaker candidacy. By embarrassing outbursts foolishly denied but caught on audio. Not to mention his 2 a.m., deer-in-the-headlights appearance claiming a yet-unconfirmed House flip the night his expected Red Wave morphed into a GOP bloodbath.

Most important, McCarthy projects hesitancy, moderation, and self-focus when intense, inspirational passion for the conservative cause is the order of the day. The Commitment? A derivative PR exercise that didn’t motivate his own troops, much less voters. His “dead on arrival” threat regarding legislative initiatives of GOP Senate turncoats on the $1.7 billion omnibus(t)? A pinched, clichéd “me-too” to the Freedom Caucus letter raising the notion.

Could McCarthy advance a bold agenda that, despite no chance of immediate passage, reshapes the battlefield like the New Green Deal? Relentlessly leverage the real power at his slim majority’s disposal – true oversight – to knock opponents on their heels? Or does his prodigious fundraising actually suggest that his true loyalties lie, like Fredo’s, with big-moneyed interests – in this case, the Donor Class?

To ask the questions answers them.

McCarthy’s explanation of his withdrawal from the Speaker’s race in 2015 foreboded the opening acts of this 118th Congress: “If we are going to unite and be strong, we need a new face” … “I am not that guy.”

He still isn’t. And win or lose, McCarthy’s sad-sack efforts to prove otherwise have turned him from a tragic echo of Vito Corleone’s bypassed scion – to a comic one.

Bob Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist, and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at

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