Imminent absence makes the heart grow fonder, it seems.
Now that House Speaker John Boehner is resigning, the Ohio lawmaker — once considered the most unpopular leader in Congress — is actually seeing his poll numbers rise. According to a new Gallup survey, 31% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Boehner, up from 23% in August.
But the uptick underscores an awkward reality for Republicans. As the end of October approaches, no clear, declared front-runner has emerged to replace Boehner. That’s in large part due to the precarious nature of the speakership: The job requires negotiating with Democrats, something much of the party objects to on principle.
The one man who many feel could unite the establishment and tea party wings of the fractured caucus is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Republicans continue to hold out hope that he will throw his hat into the ring. Ryan, however, has repeatedly said he has no interest in the job. His spokesman Brendan Buck tweeted this week that “nothing has changed” and that he doesn’t anticipate any news this week.
At the same time, there’s reason to think even Ryan might struggle to placate the right. Several influential conservatives outside of Congress already have said he’s too close to the GOP establishment to be acceptable.
In recent weeks, a number of legislators have said they’ll run for House speaker — but only if Ryan does not. Even then, it’s unclear if any of the potential candidates would be able to garner the 218 votes needed to win. The House Freedom Caucus, made up of 40 hard-line conservatives, could derail any potential nominee.
Texas Rep. Bill Flores has said he’s interested in running for speaker if Ryan won’t. In a letter to House Republicans on Wednesday evening, Flores said he was “humbled” to have his name floated as a potential candidate and that, in the coming days, he’ll be reaching out to his colleagues to gauge their interest.
Several others have also indicated interest in running should Ryan not make a bid — meaning the race could get very crowded, very quickly. Those who have broached the topic include Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, Minnesota Rep. John Kline, Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas and Oregon Rep. Greg Walden.
So far, just two Republicans have officially announced they are running: Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Chaffetz, who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee has said, however, that he’d drop his bid if Ryan gets in the race.
The House is in recess this week and doesn’t come back into session until Oct. 20. Many expect to hear an official decision from Ryan, who is reportedly re-considering his options, sometime next week. In the meantime, Boehner has said he’ll continue to serve as speaker until the lower chamber of Congress selects someone to replace him.