September 25, 2015
Boehner is gone. Now what? There are three questions of varying intrigue and difficulty answering.
First, who’s the next Speaker? Probably Kevin McCarthy of California, currently the #2 House Republican. Yes, there are still GOP elected officials from the Golden State. Most of those survivors are pretty conservative.
McCarthy, who represents the lower Central Valley (think Bakersfield), is a good example and is both well-respected and conservative enough to hold most of the caucus together and house-broken enough for the establishment.
Odds are most will feel good about the political version of a coaching change. With Paul Ryan apparently in his corner, McCarthy will face a challenge from at least a couple of his peers, but should win.
If for some reason he doesn’t, this would strongly indicate the environment next year will be more hostile than a Marco Rubio-type candidate can handle. My expectation is that the party could get behind Rubio fairly easily if he runs a strong primary campaign. A defeat for McCarthy would strongly indicate otherwise.
Second, does this change in leadership increase or decrease the odds of a shutdown, either in the next several days or right after Boehner is gone, if a temporary agreement is reached?
Think it increases the odds of a shutdown sometime before the end of 2015. It’s also going to put Mitch McConnell in an impossible position. As long as Boehner was around, half of the bile was targeted elsewhere. Now, if McCarthy isn’t on board, he’s got a huge problem.
If McCarthy somehow loses, McConnell is surrounded. Not a good place to be. Given that the 2013 shutdown was such a catastrophe that the GOP dominated the 2014 midterms, fear that Republican chances in 2016 are ruined if the government grinds to a halt are perhaps exaggerated.
While it’s true that shutdowns preceded re-election victories by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, this likely had more to do with Clinton and Obama being better candidates than their opponents.
Republicans have never lost control of the House in an election immediately following a shutdown. It may well be that 60% of the voting public would oppose a shutdown (that’s about the normal objection rate), but it doesn’t mean it’s a big issue for general election voters.
Especially if Democrats are also buying the conventional wisdom (that a shutdown is GOP suicide) and not leaving McConnell any bargaining room, the odds are pretty good this happens. Boehner can probably buy himself enough time to retire without one and then all bets are off.
Third, what impact does the new Speaker and possible (probably more likely) shutdown have on the nomination race? We’re reaching the land of idle speculation here, but let’s give it a shot.
It’s probably bad for Jeb. If the House leadership and the more conservative presidential candidates are more in synch, it could easily isolate Bush. He’s kind of stuck either way.
If there’s no progress on conservative issues in Congress, Jeb is a symbol of the frustration. If there is progress now, it means Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina (among others) were correct, that it was worth fighting. It’s hard to see an outcome that benefits him.
This is probably good for Cruz. My first reaction was the reverse, that it takes away a convenient lightning rod. Now he can’t campaign against Boehner anymore and if McCarthy winds up in his cross-hairs, Cruz may seem unreasonable.
While there’s something to that, odds are McCarthy is noticeably more aggressive in pushing a conservative agenda. This allows Cruz to point out that his pressure made a difference. Nobody questions his brainpower, few doubt his consistency.
The question is always effectiveness. Can Ted Cruz be a leader who makes things happen or is he just a very polished, eloquent bomb-thrower? This is an argument for the former, as he’s the candidate who had the most to do with this happening.
It’s likely negative for Trump. Many Trumpists are of the pox on all their houses mindset. Cruz is more identified with the struggle against Boehner, and can claim a victory so for those who weren’t sure if a total outsider, or someone like Cruz was a better idea, this may tip the scales.
It won’t destroy Trump’s support by any means, but now that he’s more in the 25% range than 30-35%, every couple of points begin to matter. If he were to drift to 18-20% on average, his chances of winning the early contests he needs for momentum begin to diminish.
No idea how this effects Ben Carson. Too many variables. Neither Mike Huckabee, nor Rand Paul have a path to the nomination right now and this didn’t change that. Same goes for the undercard debate participants. If one catches fire, it’s for a different reason.
It’s a plus for Fiorina. She’s promoting herself as a reformer, someone who can shake things up and create rapid change. With Trump voters, some belief in The Donald as a messiah is required, the idea he will move heaven and earth to get a deal.
Carly’s admirers are a bit more skeptical. While she’s vastly more popular than Trump, she trails him because she’s often a second or third choice. Voters are waiting to see how she holds up to scrutiny over HP. They love how she sounds but aren’t 100% sure she can get Comgress to do what she needs.
For those inclined to buy her explanation of losing a boardroom brawl, the natural question was how she would get Boehner and McConnell moving. With little chance of a GOP filibuster-proof majority, controlling the presidency isn’t a guarantee of dramatic change.
A more active McCarthy-led House could give primary voters enough comfort to vote for Carly to finish the job. Failing at that, I can’t see how it hurts her. There will be more drama, more things to talk about and she, as we know, talks very well.
Chris Christie and John Kasich face both danger and opportunity. At this point, the two governors share a pod with Jeb Bush as the semi-moderate governors who participate in the main debates.
None are viable without a strong performance in New Hampshire. Anything short of a win, or close second to Trump is it for Kasich and Christie and puts Jeb in a very bad spot. Only one of the three (at most) will survive the primary.
This is a chance for either of the non-Jebs to support the new House leadership if they get more aggressive and push towards a shutdown. Jeb can’t, it’s not consistent with his image of being the adult in the room (though it might not be a bad gambit for him if he really meant it), and his donors don’t have the stomach for it either.
Kasich has House leadership experience, Christie brags about jousting with the Jersey legislature. There’s an opening here for one or both to distinguish themselves and build some separation, while also reducing their negatives among more conservative GOP voters.
Given the more centrist tone Kasich has used in debates, it’s probably an easier pivot for Christie. We’ll see if he takes it.
Meanwhile, Rubio is potentially exposed. He’s steered away from advocating a shutdown. If McCarthy avoids one too, he’s probably safe, as he would remain in line with the center of the Party.
If they do shut down, and Rubio doesn’t come up with a good reason why he now thinks it’s worth it, it would leave him to the left of the House leadership which is not a safe place to be.
All considered, the new developments are probably more drama than he wants.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of suppositions and random guesses. Crossing my fingers the above words look good in 4-8 weeks.