The Real Game in the Speaker’s “Primary” Election Today

So today House Republicans are due to vote on their “nominee” to become Speaker of the House, presumably choosing between Establishment favorite Kevin McCarthy, House Freedom Caucus nominee Daniel Webster, and would-be “compromise” candidate Jason Chaffetz. McCarthy will win a comfortable majority in the first round, closing the formal proceedilengs until the full House elects a Speaker on October 29.

The real question, however, is how many votes McCarthy loses. It will very likely be over 30, meaning that if they turn into abstensions on October 29, McCarthy will not become Speaker. So unless some early deal is struck today, what the “primary” vote really does is to initiate a period of bargaining.

As a piece by Scott Wong and Christina Marcos for The Hill indicates, it’s not clear at this point what conservatives will demand for their votes on October 29, or even if they can agree on a price.

With the math working against McCarthy, some conservative leaders are reviving the idea of brokering a deal and forging a coalition with the GOP leader: A bloc of conservatives would throw their support to McCarthy on the House floor, pushing him over 218. In return, McCarthy would back one of the conservatives, such as [Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim] Jordan, to replace him as majority leader.

The other, and probably more dangerous, tack would be to make demands of McCarthy on how the new leadership team will handle the big decisions of December over appropriations and the debt limit. If the man is a few votes short and he’s confronted with a demand that he commit to a brief, base-satisfying government shutdown over Planned Parenthood or the size of the debt, is anyone sure he’d say no? I’m not.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.