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The Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics hosted a conversation with Kevin McCarthy, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, on the 2024 election Wednesday evening.
The Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics hosted a conversation with Kevin McCarthy, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, on the 2024 election Wednesday evening. By Frank S. Zhou
By William C. Mao and Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy predicted former President Donald Trump would win the presidency if the 2024 election was held today at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum on Wednesday.

McCarthy addressed a packed room for the event, which was moderated by former Harvard Kennedy School Dean Graham T. Allison ’62 and co-sponsored by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

To demonstrate Trump’s chances in November, McCarthy — who endorsed the former president in December — invited the audience to raise their hands for who they would expect to win the presidency if the country voted now.

A slight majority of the audience believed Trump would have the upper hand.

“If the election was today, it wouldn’t be as close, and I think Trump would win — sheerly on data,” McCarthy said.

The California Republican was one of 147 congressional Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. McCarthy resigned from the House late last year after fellow Republicans ousted him as speaker using the motion to vacate.

During the event, McCarthy repeatedly cracked jokes about the decision by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) to file the motion, which led to McCarthy’s ouster as speaker.

In a response to an audience question about what three policies he would implement to put the country on a better trajectory, McCarthy didn’t miss a beat.

“Take away the motion to vacate by one person in the House,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also said abortion would be “not as effective” of a campaign issue for Democrats in the upcoming 2024 elections.

McCarthy acknowledged Democrats would “run hard on abortion” in the upcoming elections.

But he said abortion would not necessarily doom Republican campaigns in 2024, citing recent Republican victories in left-leaning states like California.

“I do believe, in certain areas, it will be an issue,” McCarthy said. “But I also believe it won’t be the only issue.”

McCarthy also called out U.S. President Joe Biden’s age, saying that the 81-year-old “is going to try to run the same campaign he ran before” and could not build the same breadth of support he did in 2020.

“He doesn’t have the same coalition that has come together for Democrats in the past, at the same percentage when it comes to Black Americans or Hispanics,” he said.

McCarthy added that in terms of policy, abortion, the distribution of fentanyl, and the U.S.-Mexico border would be key issues for the 2024 election.

McCarthy called the border “a bigger issue than anybody can think,” citing the fact that Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey ’92 had called a state of emergency amid a surge in migrants.

McCarthy also said the growing prevalence of fentanyl in the United States posed a national security concern, saying that the drug often comes from China and is the “number one killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 40.”

“Why would another country want to target that age group,” McCarthy said. “Think about the ages of 18 to 40 — it’s the years you reproduce, it’s your most productive years in business, it’s the age group that volunteers to serve in your military.”

“It is a damaging age group to start losing in the country,” he added.

McCarthy also reflected on his time serving in Washington, saying that he was concerned about growing partisanship between and within parties.

“Our problem for both parties is we haven’t been solving problems,” McCarthy said. “We’re fighting over small stuff, so we’re missing the big picture for the future.”

During his time in office, McCarthy said he planned a carnival with a ferris wheel and kids games in front of the Capitol to show legislators that they could work with one another.

“It wouldn’t be Republicans versus Democrats. It was one committee versus another,” he said. “The Republicans in the committee are working together to compete against the other and subliminally they don’t realize they can do that.”

McCarthy added that the dropping confidence among American voters over U.S. democracy was not only a result of heightened polarization between Democrats and Republicans, but also because of foreign involvement from Russia.

“People ask, ‘Does Russia try to influence our elections?’ Yes, all the time,” he said.

“Do they try to pick and then make one candidate win? No. They want us to fight with each other,” McCarthy added. “They want to destroy the belief in our government, the belief in our system, and the belief in our elections.”

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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