With Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA-7) Republican primary defeat now settling in, the Republican Conference will meet later today to choose his replacement as Majority Leader. Since Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23) is a lock to move into Cantor’s position, the competitive battle for the vacated Whip position is drawing the most interest.
Though Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID-1) is challenging McCarthy, the outcome of this internal race is already a foregone conclusion. The Whip’s campaign features Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam (R-IL-6), Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA-1), and a late entry, Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana.
The question to be answered is whether the Republican Conference as a whole will simply follow the normal leadership succession with McCarthy and Roskam, or will the most conservative wing stand together and choose someone whom they can claim credit for electing, thus simultaneously paying attention to the right flank and the party’s dominant southern vote base.
The outcome remains cloudy as we head directly into the secret ballot voting. Stutzman’s entry into the race brings additional uncertainty and in many ways denies the Tea Party conservatives the opportunity of claiming credit for a Scalise election. Stutzman is likely to be first eliminated, but his presence will deny an outright majority to one of the other two. This means Roskam and Scalise will face each other in a two-person second ballot contest.
Much will be written after these mid-cycle leadership elections conclude. Should Roskam win, many commentaries and analysis pieces will be presented saying that the GOP membership is ignoring the Tea Party wing of the Conference, adopting the status quo despite seeing Cantor taken out, and allowing personal relationships to trump what might be good for the party’s electoral prospects later this year.
Should Scalise win, the coverage will attempt to move the Louisiana congressman away from the Tea Party on the ideological scale by saying that Stutzman split the ad hoc caucus.
But what about tending to the large southern base? Will the conference shut out any southern member from obtaining a seat at the leadership table? Currently, 48.5 percent of the Republican Conference hails from one of the 14 states that comprise the Deep South and border state regions even though this number of states is only 28 percent of the whole. Should Scalise lose, none of the top five leadership positions will belong to a member coming from a state south of Kansas.
Additionally, the failure of the Tea Party conservatives to unite behind a candidate for either leadership office makes them look weak to the hard right bloc of voters, people who are already largely responsible for defeating venerable Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX-4), eliminating Cantor, and probably ending Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-MS) long career next Tuesday.
Conversely, a McCarthy-Roskam victory will improve Speaker John Boehner’s hand, sending a clear message that he again commands enough support throughout the Conference to win another term post the November elections.