The House will reconvene at noon Tuesday to try again to elect a speaker for the new Congress, and here’s what could happen:
1. Somehow, Kevin McCarthy will prevail. This seems unlikely. Consider: During Monday’s three votes, his people were surely begging, pleading with at least some of the 19, then 20 Republicans voting against McCarthy to switch back to supporting him or at least to vote “present.” They would have wanted to see that 19 go down to 17 on round two and 15 on round three. Instead, it went slightly up, to 20.
One never knows what goes on behind closed doors, and maybe there are some setup carrots McCarthy can offer the hard-liners to win enough of them over. But look at the math. At a minimum, he needs to flip 10 deniers to vote for him and nine to vote “present.” The nine voting “present” would reduce the overall number of votes to 425 from 434 (there is one vacant district, Virginia’s 4th, where Democratic incumbent Donald McEachin died and which, by the way, is a D+10 seat). Half plus one of 425 is 213, 10 more than McCarthy won yesterday.
Looking down the list, it’s awfully hard to see 10 who’ll flip to McCarthy. Nothing’s impossible. But the reward-and-punishment system that exists on today’s radical right will reward continued resistance and punish capitulation. They bring McCarthy down, they’re heroes to Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon and the rest; they cave, they’re ninnies. Anger and dissension on the far right just deepen.
2. Steve Scalise or someone else emerges. Jim Jordan? Maybe, but he’s just not a good fit for the job. Well, none of them is a good fit for the job, but Jordan especially—he’s a pit bull, period. Can you picture him corralling votes, doing all that hard work that Nancy Pelosi has done so well over the years? Impossible.
Scalise raises an interesting set of mostly unexplored questions. He once told a Louisiana reporter, explaining his broad philosophy, that he was “David Duke without the baggage.” That quote is making the rounds in the liberal media right now. It’s time for the Democrats to pick it up. How will that sit with the moderate Republicans—and there are a few now, the several new members who helped the GOP get this majority? Will they want to go back to their voters in two years and explain their vote for that man? It’s possible that Scalise loses some support from the middle, if Democrats raise the issue properly.
The third idea floating around, that some consensus candidate will emerge, is the fantasy of people who think Aaron Sorkin is writing this. There are only two outcomes: McCarthy, or a non-McCarthy acceptable to the hard right that is running this show. However it ends, it’s a GOP disaster 30 years in the making and will hang over the entire two-year session.