NOTE: This diary has been updated.
If you’re anticipating the entertainment of Republican presidential candidates out-crazying each other in 2016, you’re in for a treat this year too. Eric Cantor has announced that he will be stepping down as House Majority Leader next month and the election of a new leader will be held on July 19.
Cue the circus clowns falling over their out-sized shoes to line up as candidates for the new and unexpected opening. It’s happened suddenly, and in the middle of primary season, so the most ambitious of them, including those with the highest ratings re delusions of grandeur, aren’t so much stepping forward as leaping forward.
Rumors abound in the House and there’s been a rash of meetings in the last 24 hours as factions gathered to discuss candidacy options while the ambitious strove to put themselves forward and shore up some early support.
House Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy, was the first hat to be tossed into the ring and he has Cantor’s backing though how much that will count, given the crushing circumstances of Cantor’s political demise, is anybody’s guess at this stage. It’s unlikely to count for much. GOP Representatives have rapidly moved on from “House Republicans said they're shocked and saddened by Eric Cantor's Tuesday night defeat” to scrambling for a replacement. Shock and sadness for Cantor proved very short-lived.
The next name to emerge was that of Rep Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) but his candidacy lasted less than 24 hours when he announced Thursday morning:
“Although I am humbled by the calls, emails, and conversations from my colleagues encouraging me to return to leadership for the remainder of the 113th Congress, I will not be a candidate for Majority Leader next week," he said in a statement. "After prayerful reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this is not the right office at the right time for me and my family. I look forward to working with the new Majority Leader to fight for a freer, stronger, more prosperous America as Chairman of the Financial Services Committee and the Representative of the Fifth District of Texas."
Another whose potential candidacy lasted less than a day was GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash) when she removed herself from the running late Wednesday.
Rep Pete Sessions (R-Texas), considered to be the most serious contender, has also dropped out of the running. Because of this, some are already calling it for McCarthy but that is to ignore other forces at work in front of and behind the scenes. Bachmann (R-Minn) is not a silent bystander and nor is Steve King (R-Iowa). Together they are urging a delay on the vote, claiming that this snap election fails to give tea partiers enough time to select and field their candidates. King told reporters:
"We're asking for a delay on this vote so there's time for this conference to come to its senses and evaluate all the opportunities we have going forward. In all of the leadership positions that are here, I will not vote in the affirmative for any candidate who has advocated for amnesty."Bachmann echoed King's complaints:
"People want to have a leader that doesn't support amnesty," she said. "It's wrong to have an election without even one candidate who stands for securing our borders and rejecting amnesty."Currently, King is touting Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) as his "top choice". Jordan also has support among conservatives who believe he's their best chance to shake up the race. However, it is not clear if he is actually running. While on Wednesday it appeared that he'd declined a candidacy spot on the ballot, a day later he'd become the focus of a Draft Jim Jordan Twitter Campaign.
Another possible option is Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) who has been a frequent critic of GOP leadership in the past. Certainly his name has been mentioned in the rumors doing the rounds.
The advantage for Jordan and Labrador may be in the fact that they represent Republican states. There appears to be a strong feeling among House GOP that their Majority Leader should be from a red state, not a blue one. McCarthy (R-Cal) is from a very blue state and it's possible that this factor may be stirring up feeling against his candidacy.
Other names have been bandied around but are yet to surface. It’s hardly a secret that Rep Darrell Issa (R-Cal) craves the spotlight so he may be one of them and you can be sure he’s working behind the scenes. However, the party has shown little to no confidence in his ability this year and that was never more obvious than when Speaker Boehner announced a new select committee to take over the Benghazi investigation, effectively removing it from Issa’s grasp.
Trey Gowdy is another who would love to step forward but has too little to recommend him at this stage. While he is the chairman of the new high-profile select committee re Benghazi, the committee has had no publicity so far beyond the announcement of its existence. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gowdy is feeling very annoyed by the timing of Cantor’s announcement.
Had she not already declared her retirement at the end of this term, Michele Bachmann would no doubt have spoken up. Though she’d have no hope in such an election, I doubt this would have deterred her from claiming “God told me to run” once again.
When Kevin McCarthy resigns his position as Majority House Whip in order to run for the leadership, there will also be another scramble for his vacated position. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La) is the early front-runner and looked to be a safe bet until Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind) also announced he’d be running for the post. Meanwhile, Illinois Rep Peter Roskam’s chances were scuppered when members of his own delegation plotted behind the scenes against him in favour of Scalise.
Yes, it’s all fun and games in the House GOP! Though they are lacking a big tent, the clowns are on and will be the headline act in the House up to July 19 and beyond. Whoever is elected their Majority Leader will inevitably have a bearing on the Republican campaign for the general election. They’d better hope that whoever it is doesn’t get primaried himself – that would be the kind of joke these clowns could never live down!