The dome of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, Mar. 19, 2014.
Karen Bleier/Getty

GOP leadership vacuum goes unfilled

As Rachel noted on the show last night, the number of House Republicans ready to run for Speaker increased by one yesterday when Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) announced he’s getting in if Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) doesn’t. Zinke boasted that he’s received considerable encouragement and his phone has been ringing “off the hook.”
This, of course, led many of us to ask an important question: who in the world is Ryan Zinke? It turns out, the far-right freshman was just elected to Congress for the first time last year. If a member tried to become Speaker after nine years, he or she would be seen as inexperienced, but Zinke says he’s ready for the big promotion after just nine months.
And while it’s probably fair to characterize the Montanan as a long shot, the fact remains that House Republicans still have no idea how to fill their leadership vacuum. John Boehner was supposed to be the Speaker, but he announced his resignation. Kevin McCarthy was supposed to be the next Speaker, but he unexpectedly withdrew from consideration, too. Paul Ryan is the one most of the party wants as Speaker, but at least for now, he says he doesn’t want the job.
Who’s next? Politico reported overnight that the current contenders lack broad support.
The half-dozen or so Republicans seriously looking at running believe they can unite the warring GOP Conference. But most or all of them would face a serious challenge wooing the several dozen hard-line conservatives who don’t have the numbers to get one of their own in the No. 1 spot but have demonstrated that, if they stick together, they can veto other candidates.
Other than Ryan, none of the speaker possibilities, at least right now, appears to have the kind of support across the conference it would take to win 218 votes on the House floor.
Keep in mind, Politico referenced a “half-dozen or so” candidates, but that tally is almost certainly understating matters. The list of relatively high-profile figures expressing a serious interest grows a little every day, with Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) now “very strongly considering running.”
If/when Paul Ryan definitely rules out a bid, the party may very well end up with 20 or more contenders – not one of whom would be seen as the obvious favorite.
In the meantime, one of the few modern Republicans to actually have the job continues to express an interest.
Newt Gingrich, who ruled over the House as speaker in the 1990s, is open to the possibility of returning to his former post. In a Tuesday radio interview on Fox News Radio, Gingrich and his wife Callista said that both of them support his return to the speakership if they “are called to duty in any way.”
“I am very prepared,” Gingrich said. “I have been talking with a number of members individually, I am very prepared to help the House Republicans think through what they are doing.”
Fox’s Sean Hannity, a notable figure in Republican media, apparently seems quite fond of the idea.
I’d argue that Zinke probably stands a better change than a disgraced former Speaker who was forced to resign 17 years ago, but given the state of GOP politics, perhaps we should expect the unexpected.