In a turn of events that may one day be worthy of a movie adaptation, House Republicans currently have no clear leader to replace the departing John Boehner.
The saga leading to this turn of events has been long in the making. Boehner’s apparent heir, and former House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor was picked off last year in a primary challenge.
In one of the biggest upsets in congressional history, college professor Dave Brat used both tea party frustration with Cantor, and the unexpected support of Democrat and former Dukes of Hazzard star Ben “Cooter” Jones, to upset the congressman.
With Cantor gone, the next House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed to be Boehner’s next in line. However, shortly after announcing his candidacy for the Speakership, McCarthy made a costly gaffe.
While trying to boost his conservative credentials on Fox News, McCarthy spoke of the House Select Committee on Benghazi in such a way that Democrats barely had to twist his words to make it sound like the committee’s main duty was harming Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Additionally, McCarthy has been hit with an as yet unsubstantiated rumor of engaging in an extramarital affair. Given that McCarthy’s support from the far right and more libertarian leaning members of his party was already shaky at best, these issues have caused him to withdraw his name from the Speakership.
As such, in perhaps a first in congressional history, the majority party has no clear leader waiting in the wings. Utah representative Jason Chaffetz, who is seen as further to the right than Boehner, has thrown his hat in the race along with tea party favorite Florida representative Daniel Webster.
At this point, it is unknown if mainstream Republicans will find a candidate of their own. Former Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan and South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy, who has made a name for himself on the Benghazi Committee, have been approached for the nomination. Ryan says he does not want the job, citing his young children at home and not having the time to dedicate. Meanwhile, Gowdy could probably appeal to all factions of the party, but, as recently as last month, he was considering not running for re-election.
This leadership void has lead to some proposals which, while innovative, are unlikely to take off. Because the House Speaker does not have to be a member of Congress, some have suggested inviting Newt Gingrich back for another shot at the job.
More likely, however, whoever the next Speaker is may have to count on Democratic votes to receive a majority. Assuming establishment Republicans eventually decide on a candidate, the dwindling number of Blue Dog and conservative Democrats, who could back a Republican Speaker without suffering much blowback with their voters and donors, may well find themselves being courted for votes.
Whoever arises as the eventual Speaker will then have the thankless job ahead of trying to keep the various Republican factions united. Given the difficulties Boehner has faced, it should come as little surprise that younger men like Ryan and Gowdy, who may have long political futures ahead of them, seem reluctant to pursue the position.