With the surprise victory of upstart candidate Dave Brat over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Virginia GOP primary, House Republicans are now obliged to select a new leader. After a bit of early fuss at the starting gate, the race quickly boiled down to a two-man contest between Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), currently the Majority Whip, and Raul Labrador (R-ID), running as the conservative alternative to the Establishment.
According to Labrador, this magical season of upstart victories has not ended yet, and he’s in it to win it. In a Fox News appearance on Tuesday, he said he was “close” to securing the votes he needs, because “a lot of people are switching their votes, and they are really excited about having somebody challenge the Establishment right now.”
Labrador presented himself as better able to unify the Republican conference, which he described as weary of “a top-down approach where you talk to members of Congress and they feel like they’re totally irrelevant.” He elaborated further on his view of McCarthy’s weaknesses in an interview with the Washington Post:
With little time and little organization, Labrador has struggled to gain traction inside the GOP cloakroom ??? where relationships matter more than grass-roots fervor ??? finding few supporters outside of a tight-knit group of allies that includes Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
Labrador, however, believes that McCarthy is weaker than the confidence he projects, arguing that many members grouse privately about McCarthy???s vision and abilities ??? and that after Cantor???s loss, any candidate shouldn???t be written off.
???McCarthy???s support is pretty soft,??? Labrador said. ???Even the people who say they???re supporting him are not strongly supporting him. I have not had many people say they???re 100 percent excited about Kevin.???
???I hear he does know the names of spouses, which I guess is a big issue,??? he added. ???But you know, this shouldn???t be about personalities.???
A less enthusiastic assessment of Labrador’s chances was delivered elsewhere at Fox by Chad Pegram:
The voting is secret. Members will write the names of their preferred candidate on slips of paper. There are currently 233 members of the House Republican Conference. So 117 technically is what’s needed to win, though the actual number could be lower when absences are factored in.
McCarthy is believed to be way ahead. But there is a bloc of 40-60 Republicans, mainly rock-ribbed conservatives, who are likely to vote for Labrador as the “alternative” candidate to the “establishment.” This is the same faction of Republicans who have voted against most major policy initiatives — be it raising the debt ceiling, funding the government, a transportation package, agriculture bills and hurricane relief. This is a protest vote.
If McCarthy wins as expected, a vote to fill his old position as Majority Whip would promptly ensue, where Pegram sees Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana slightly ahead of Pete Roskam of Illinois and Marlin Stutzman of Indiana… unless “disenchanted conservatives” break heavily for Stutzman.
Some House conservatives told Buzzfeed that Labrador’s hastily assembled protest bid might prove to be a prelude for a more serious leadership challenge in November, when some of the potential contenders who took a pass on challenging McCarthy today would be better prepared:
???As quickly as they moved, it was hard for anybody outside of the Capitol to influence it,??? said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a sharp critic of the current leadership team. ???If the end result is just a promotion within the dynasty, that won???t be good enough for the base of the Republican Party. Conservative groups won???t be happy with that and it???s as if we didn???t listen at all.???
???But it builds the case that we???ll need new leadership in the fall. I don???t think it solidifies anything for the fall, even if McCarthy gets his automatic promotion,??? he added. ???Partly it???s about time, but partly it???s about understanding that race wasn???t just about Eric Cantor, it was about the entire leadership team. The defeat of Eric, the insiders just don???t get it.???
[…] South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, who would not say who he was supporting in the leadership race, believes the unique circumstances of Thursday???s leadership election would inspire conservatives to run a more serious challenge in a few months.
???Given the one week duration of this race, there???s really not a credible way of mounting a really serious challenger campaign because you have to engage the outside forces and do all the other nuts and bolts of politics which is really difficult to do in a week,??? he said. ???I???d say if conservatives are frustrated in November, I would argue there???s a much greater shot of making a change at that point because you???d have time in which to do so.???
Rep. Justin Amash, one of the above-mentioned top supporters of Rep. Labrador, argued that on the contrary, the incumbent McCarthy would be even harder to beat: “If we essentially stick to the same leadership team by re-electing them tomorrow then they hold all the cards in terms of persuading new members with promises of committee spots and chairmanships. This is the time when none of that is possible.”
The vote is due to begin at 2:00 PM Thursday, so we should know fairly soon what is possible, and how much of an impact Rep. Labrador’s run makes, even if he’s not able to find the votes he needs to win.
Update: Kevin McCarthy won the Majority Leader’s position on Thursday afternoon.
Update: Steve Scalise was selected as the new Majority Whip to replace Rep. McCarthy.