Almost immediately after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shocked the political world with his unprecedented resignation announcement, attention turned to his successor. Party leaders, fearing a leadership vacuum, wasted no time in making clear that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was poised to get a promotion.
But with four days remaining until the behind-closed-doors, secret-ballot election, uncertainty reigns.
Last week, McCarthy did himself no favors, accidentally telling the truth about his party’s Benghazi scheme and then clumsily trying (and failing) to clean up his mess. But the more Republicans were confronted with doubts about whether the Californian is genuinely up for such an important job, the more they were confronted with the realization that he had no credible rivals for the post.
At least, he didn’t. With only a few days left to campaign, the dynamic has changed.
Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah has thrown a curveball into the race for House speaker, officially announcing on Sunday that he’ll take on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for the high-profile position.Chaffetz, who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, painted himself as an outsider and argued on “Fox News Sunday” that he can better “bridge the divide” between moderate and far-right GOPers.
To be sure, the odds do not appear to favor the Utah Republican, who has even less experience than the inexperienced McCarthy. Chaffetz, however, has at least chaired a committee – something McCarthy, incredibly, has never done – and the Utahan has broader support among social conservatives in the GOP caucus.
In the meantime, the simple realization that McCarthy seems to lack the skills necessary to be a competent and effective House Speaker appears to be dawning on a growing number of party insiders. The fears that started as whispers continue to increase in volume.
In the Washington Post, Ed Rogers, a veteran Republican operative, noted, “Capitol Hill Republicans are falling in line, but the hand-wringing over McCarthy’s ability to say the wrong thing is audible.” Rogers added, with striking candor, “Republicans need to be sure we are introducing a new serious actor onto a very troubled world stage. Now is not a good time for verbal bumbling or embarrassing ignorance.”
The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker, another conservative observer, added in a separate column, “One minute McCarthy was the near-certain next speaker of the House; the next he was persona non grata…. McCarthy has since tried to cram the bad genie back into the bottle, but the damage has been done and can’t be undone. […] McCarthy should tar and feather himself and ride out of town on a donkey.”
Remember, Rogers and Parker aren’t liberals. They’re both on the right, marveling at the ineptitude of one of their own.
This is not to say Chaffetz will be the next Speaker. (Florida’s Dan Webster is also seeking the leadership post, though he faces even longer odds.) But Republican officials were counting on a smooth transition and expected Thursday’s election to simply confirm a consensus choice. It’s clearly not working out that way.
Indeed, don’t be too surprised if, as Thursday’s vote draws closer, other potential candidates give the Speaker’s race another look.
Making matters slightly worse, Boehner is reportedly eyeing a delay in the election for Majority Leader and Majority Whip. “There is serious unrest in the House Republican Conference,” Politico reported, “and delaying the elections might give more time for the mood to settle, according to sources involved in the planning.”