Kevin McCarthy, four months after Jan. 6, is still playing defense over Trump.

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Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, was in an uncharacteristically dark place after the Capitol siege of Jan. 6.

He was getting pounded from all sides. He was being accused, accurately, of promoting President Donald J. Trump’s stolen-election lies. But Mr. Trump was still enraged at him for not doing more, and his supporters had just ransacked Mr. McCarthy’s office.

“This is the first time I think I’ve ever been depressed in this job,” Mr. McCarthy confided to his friend, Representative Patrick T. McHenry, Republican of North Carolina. “Patrick, man, I’m down, I’m just really down.”

Mr. McHenry told him to gather himself. “You’re dazed,” Mr. McHenry said, recounting the exchange. “You have to try to think clearly.”

As the end of the Trump presidency devolved into turmoil and violence, Mr. McCarthy faced a dilemma, one that has bedeviled his party for nearly five years: Should he cut Mr. Trump loose, as many Republicans were urging?

Or should he keep trying to make it work with an ousted president who remains the most popular and motivating force inside the G.O.P.?

Mr. McCarthy chose the latter.

Nearly four months after Jan. 6, Mr. McCarthy continues to defend his support for Mr. Trump’s bogus assertions that the election was stolen from him. Friends say that he knows better and is as exasperated by Mr. Trump’s behavior as other top Republicans, but that he has made the calculation that the former president’s support is essential for his ambitions to become speaker after the 2022 elections, when Republicans have a decent chance to win back the House.

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