The House adjourned without a speaker on Tuesday night - the first time since 1923 they had failed to choose a leader after a first round vote.
The start of a new Congress was supposed to be a victory lap for the Republican Party as it took control of the lower chamber following November's elections.
Instead, Mr McCarthy faced a rebellion from within his own ranks and made history for all the wrong reasons.
The California congressman has lost three consecutive votes for Speaker so far, and it's unclear what his path to victory could be when the House returns on Wednesday to try all over again.
And even if Mr McCarthy finds a way, analysts warn, the turmoil on the floor of the House foreshadows a tumultuous two years of moderate and right-wing Republicans at war with each other.
A Republican party unable to effectively run the lower chamber of Congress could hamper its ability to carry out some of its core functions like passing spending bills or raising the debt ceiling.
Republicans narrowly won control of the House in November, so Mr McCarthy only had a few votes to spare in his bid to become Speaker.
That allowed a group of hardline conservatives to band together to oppose his nomination.
Mr McCarthy entered into negotiations with his detractors - who see him as too mainstream and power hungry - offering concessions to try to win their vote.