House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has abruptly pulled out of the race for Speaker of the House on the same day that he was widely expected to be nominated for the position. The nominating contest in the GOP conference set for Thursday afternoon in the House has been postponed.
Oct. 8, 201502:00
There is a degree of irony to all of this: Benghazi didn't bring down Hillary Clinton, but it did prevent Kevin McCarthy from becoming Speaker.
The California Republican faced two challengers for his party's Speaker nomination, but by all appearances, he had the support he needed to go to the floor as his party's official choice. As recently as last night, McCarthy's bid was on track to move forward.
The problem was the looming floor vote on Oct. 29 -- the opposition to his promotion from the far-right was significant and he faced a real challenge in pulling together 218 GOP votes.
Oct. 8, 201506:06
A week ago, the landscape seemed relatively clear. The GOP establishment had rallied behind McCarthy, and though there were some questions about the other top posts, we'd have a sense of the new Republican leadership team by this afternoon.
Now, however, there's nothing but chaos in the Republican ranks. It's reminiscent of late 1998, when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) resigned in disgrace, and his successor, Speaker-designate Bob Livingston (R-La.), also had to resign in disgrace after a sex scandal came to light.
The difference now is, the only scandal is the radicalization of Republican politics.
So what happens now? All of the leadership elections that had been scheduled for today have been postponed. The date of the new elections is unclear. McCarthy reportedly intends to stay in Congress -- indeed, he apparently wants to keep his Majority Leader position -- though it seems everything is unsettled right now.
The party's establishment will have to rally behind a new standard bearer, though no one has any idea who that might be. All eyes will, of course, quickly turn to Paul Ryan, but the far-right Wisconsin congressman reiterated again this morning that he does not want to be Speaker of the House.
Because House rules allow members to elect anyone for Speaker -- including those who are not current lawmakers -- don't be too surprised if GOP officials start looking to potential leaders outside of Capitol Hill.
What's more, let's not discount the possibility that John Boehner himself may stick around, indefinitely, while the chaos continues, House Republicans turn on each other, the chamber unravels, and Congress struggles mightily to find a suitable leader.
Finally, I heard one rumor a short while ago, which is admittedly hard to believe, about some less-conservative Republicans turning to Democrats to try to elect a "coalition-style Speaker," in a scheme that would disempower the chamber's right-wing extremists.
It's far-fetched, to be sure, but after the last 13 days, it's now best to expect the unexpected.