In his nominating speech for Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), who by all accounts was beaten badly in the race for majority leader by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), former Republican Study Committee (RSC) chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) gave his colleagues a warning.
“Look, we all like Eric. We all, by and large, think Eric did a good job,” Jordan said, according to Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). But Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss “is a message that we need to think about,” Jordan continued, saying it was a “vote of no confidence for not just the Republican leadership, [but] Washington, D.C. generally.”
In picking McCarthy, Cantor’s next in line and someone who shares a similar ideological profile with the ousted Virginian, the GOP conference chose to continue its current path, at least in personnel.
“I gave a speech to a couple Republican groups this weekend — not Tea Party groups — this is Republican, in my district. And they were all cheering about Eric losing. I don’t think any of them know Eric, but I think they just saw it as, finally the people are fighting back. Fairly or unfairly. And I think when news of this gets out, I think a lot of people are going to say ‘these guys just don’t get it up there,'” DeSantis said.
But the answer about how McCarthy won so easily may say as much about conservative insurgents who failed to mount a significant challenge as it does the resilient power of the GOP establishment.
In the hours after Cantor lost, McCarthy was already working the phones. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), meanwhile, was contemplating whether to jump in.
“I am prayerfully considering the best way I can serve,” said Hensarling on the day following Cantor’s historic upset. Hensarling was widely considered the most viable McCarthy challenger on the right.
“As the famous racecar driver Ricky Bobby said, if you’re not first you’re last, and if you’re praying, you’re losing in the leadership race,” quipped a former leadership aide, adding: “The other famous proverb in the Bible that you may not know about is ‘early bird gets the worm.'”
Punctuality also turned out to be fatal for chief deputy whip Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), who waited to jump into the race for whip out of deference to Cantor.
“Speed kills in leadership races. [Scalise] got to 100 very quickly. And then it was just a matter of him picking up a few votes every day,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), a top vote counter for Roskam.
Immediately after the election results were announced, there were already rumors about potential leadership fights in the fall, when the leadership team will face reelection.
One such scenario being discussed on K Street is that Hensarling, Jordan, and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) would run as a ticket.
Adding fuel to the fire was an email sent by Paul Teller, a Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) aide who formerly served as executive director of the RSC and was fired by Scalise. The email invited House conservatives to huddle with Cruz in his office next Tuesday evening over pizza. But, as an email reviewed by Breitbart News showed, the initial invite was sent the morning of May 12 – before Cantor had lost, precipitating the unusual leadership shakeup.
And even while rumors spread, the GOP’s hardliners explained why a challenge to the leadership then would never have the same chance as trying to remake the team following the historic Cantor loss.
“We’re fair about these things. And we say, ‘Look, if you’re elected to something, you ought to have at least one term to show what you can do,'” said Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), who backed his fellow Louisianian Scalise in the whip race.
“You probably will never have as clean a shot to get an important position as you did this time, given what happened with Eric and given the ability to argue for change. And there were guys who were pursued about that and didn’t step up to the dish,” DeSantis said.
“I’ve heard from many members who say they want to challenge the team in November. From my perspective, our best shot for making a change was today, not November,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who played a key role in the effort to oust Boehner in early 2013.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), a top ally to Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), warned that Republicans needed to move past their internecine warfare to combat Democrats:
We’ve got a $12 million disadvantage to the Democrats. The Democrats are raising a ton of money online. And what Republicans and conservatives across the country have to realize is, when they are giving money to all of these solicitors that are pretending to be “the” conservative group, they’re going to pay huge salaries to people whose goal it is, not to help win Republicans and stop Obama’s agenda, but whose goal it is to make money. And it’s a real problem for us when we’re sitting already $12 million in the hole and the Democrats have the president of the United States who can continue to go out and raise money.
“I mean, it’s a real problem. So, people need to really pull their head out of the sand and get to work,” Nunes added.
Despite criticisms of “business as usual,” McCarthy has something of a blank slate with the right to begin his tenure.
Amash said he’s looking for McCarthy to make “a fresh start. A chance to show members of the conference that he’s going to listen, that he’s going to work with all of us, and that members who aren’t on the inside aren’t made to feel irrelevant.”
Fleming said McCarthy had showed openness to embracing the message of Cantor’s downfall.
“My message to him,” Fleming said of the newly elected majority leader in a second conversation, “is that the American people are very frustrated and they’re very angry with President Obama and his agenda. His imperialistic presidency, doing things with a pen and a phone and ignoring Congress. And America is beginning to take it out on Republican leadership, because they think we’re not strident enough, and we’re not vociferous enough about pushing back against the president’s agenda.”
“It’s a do-over,” ForAmerica chairman Brent Bozell recently told Breitbart News, before the election took place: “If McCarthy is the guy, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Labrador took a side exit from the room, refusing to comment to reporters about the results of the race.
Other members praised him for throwing his hat in the ring, as one member approached him to slap him on the back, congratulating him for acting “classy” during the election.
In McCarthy’s brief acceptance speech, he paid tribute to Cantor, prompting standing ovations.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, summarized the meaning of the results.
“Only two people put their names forward for leader, and if some people aren’t happy with the current leadership team, well they could have put forward other candidates to reflect the satisfaction, but they didn’t, so we’re moving forward with the team that we have,” he said.