House Conservatives Fail To Unite Behind A Candidate For Speaker

With just a day to go before House Republicans pick their candidate for Speaker, conservatives don't seem to be able to unify behind a candidate.

Capitol Daytime

With just one day to go before House Republicans meet to select a new Speaker, conservative members of the House GOP Caucus do not appear to have united around a viable alternative to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy:

WASHINGTON — House conservatives — a large enough voting bloc to influence the outcome of GOP leadership elections — grilled candidates for speaker behind closed doors Tuesday evening.

But after more than two hours, they weren’t able to come to a decision on who they will endorse — if anyone at all.

Although conservatives have pushed for Speaker John Boehner to step down for years, they have yet to capitalize on getting their wish fulfilled. None of the rising conservative stars ended up mounting a bid for speaker, and they’ve so far have been unable to coalesce around any of the announced candidates, despite an effort to learn from the past and avoid internal divisions.

Asked if conservatives would be able to vote as a bloc, Rep. Steve King of Iowa replied, “I think that’s going to be difficult. I don’t know if unity will be there.”

Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina added, “I don’t know that they would vote as a bloc right now. But at this point, there are still at least 40 people who are uncommitted as to who they are going to support.”

Hosted by the House Freedom Caucus, Tea Party Caucus, House Liberty Caucus, and Conservative Opportunity Society, the meeting provided attendees an opportunity to interview the three candidates for speaker: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah.

McCarthy is expected to have the majority of the GOP conference votes needed to become the nominee in closed-door meeting on Thursday, but it remains unclear if he has the 218 votes needed to become speaker when the entire chamber votes on Oct. 29. Attendees at the meeting said they didn’t think any of the candidates had 218 voters needed to avoid a floor fight as of now.

Coming out of the meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas said McCarthy made the case that he wasn’t what some conservatives have labeled him.

“I’m not John Boehner,” Farenthold said, describing McCarthy’s pitch. “I’m going to run things differently. I’m my own man.”

McCarthy, who members said made a “compelling case,” left the building through a side door after his interview and did not talk to reporters.

Chaffetz, who didn’t announce his bid until Sunday, acknowledged he’s the long-shot candidate and said he would endorse the nominee on Thursday instead of trying to make a play for the position during the floor vote.

In addition to Chaffetz, McCarthy is also being challenged by Florida Congressman Daniel Webster, but he does not appear to have the support of more than an handful of supporters. Additionally, Webster does not have the ties to the leadership that Chaffetz does through his Chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee that would arguably make him an acceptable substitute to that side of the caucus if McCarthy’s bid were to somehow collapse. Indeed, the fact that Chaffetz was persuaded to enter the race even after Webster announced that he was getting into the race seems to be a fairly strong indication that Webster’s fellow conservatives don’t have much, if any, confidence in Webster as anything other than a protest candidate, much like he was at the beginning of this year when he was the primary candidate who received protest votes from conservative Republicans during the vote to elect a new Speaker.

Based on Webster’s obvious lack of support and the fact that Chaffetz has made it clear that he will endorse whomever ends up winning the caucus vote tomorrow, it seems clear that McCarthy will sail relatively smoothly both tomorrow and when the full House votes to select a new Speaker on October 29th. While there may well be some contingent of Republicans who will rebel against McCarthy’s ascension, the fact that his most prominent rival will end up endorsing him is likely to sway sufficient votes to allow McCarthy to easily get the 218 votes he needed to be elected Speaker. Of course, once that happens McCarthy will be dealing with the same restive caucus that Boehner did and unless he can find a way to tame them, which seems unlikely more because of the nature of the members involved than McCarthy’s skills of persuasion, it’s like that McCarthy will one day be voicing the same complaints Boehner has in the wake of his announcement.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    This sort of sounds like the old “and what does the dog do AFTER he catches the car?”

  2. Hal_10000 says:

    Not surprised. When you have a bunch of ideologues, they can rarely find someone who is sufficiently ideologically pure to please them all. They end up splitting into different factions and fighting each other. I call it the People’s Front of Judea Problem.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Govern the world’s most powerful nation? They can’t even govern themselves. They are a laughing stock. No wonder absolutely everything they believe is wrong. They’re blooming idiots!!!
    How any intelligent being could vote Republican is beyond me.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    The term herding cats comes to mind.

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    The term herding cats comes to mind.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Ron Beasley: I like cats. Cats are cute, easy to get along with, and don’t cause problems. Maybe herding rabid ferrets?

  7. C. Clavin says:

    And for criminies sake can we stop calling these people Conservative???
    They are not. They are radicals in both word and action.
    They are fundamentalist ideologues.
    They are Authoritarians.
    They are Republicans.
    They are not Conservative.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    @Ron Beasley: Cats at least are useful. They keep mice away and keep chipmunks away from the tulip bulbs. I haven’t seen anything near as productive out of these Conservative critters.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    @grumpy realist:
    @Ron Beasley:
    They both make me sneeze.

  10. al-Ameda says:

    This is the political equivalent of watching a 2-hour loop of
    NASCAR spinouts into outer walls or into the infield.

    As Ron Popeil advised us so many times: “just set it and forget it”
    while you go to the kitchen to microwave some popcorn.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    McCarthy will be dealing with the same restive caucus that Boehner did and unless he can find a way to tame them

    He hasn’t been able to tame them in his other posts…either as Majority Whip or as Majority Leader…why would he now?
    And this is going to put that ultra-right-wing nut-job Scalise into the Leader’s job.
    If the House is currently in chaos…what is the next level of the death spiral called???

  12. MarkedMan says:

    And this is the illustration of why the modern Republican party should not be governing this country. They have these 40+ idiots, yet they have made it gospel that they won’t take a victory unless they can get it with only Republicans which means they have to get a significant number of these beligerant morons on board. (I would say those very rare cases that literally mean the fiscal destruction of the US are the exceptions that prove the rule). They absolutely and without embarrassment put the needs of their frickin’ political party over the good of the country, not to mention their sworn duty to look out for their electorates interests.

  13. bookdragon says:

    @C. Clavin: I believe the phrase you’re looking for is ‘spinning out of control’

  14. Neil Hudelson says:


    Ferrets are loyal, intelligent, playful animals who often get along well with other creatures, and who smell quite fine when they are bathed regularly.

    By that description i can only see one similarity between them and Republicans.

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    I feel confident in predicting that they’ll unite behind complaining about whoever does get enough votes to become Speaker.

  16. stonetools says:

    Seems to be that the House Republicans are going to be if anything, even more rigidly ideological and intrasigent than before, not only for now but for as long as there is a House Republican majority. Let that sink in for a while. That means in the long term that there will be no legislation on any issue that that a Democratic President would advocate for until 2020 or maybe 2024. That means liberals can forget about passing immigration reform, climate change or environmental legislation of any kind, family leave, federal legislation aimed at restricting police brutality, Patriot Act reform, and of course gun safety legislation. In the short term, we will be looking at another government shutdown fight in December.OTOH, we can look forward to another 50 bills repealing Obamacare
    I have a feeling that those who tout the benefits of divided government are going to be very unhappy before too long. Eventually, there will be a crisis demanding a federal legislative response and as sure as shooting the House Republicans are going to foo things up. Its going to be ugly.

  17. C. Clavin says:

    The 40 or so members of the ironically named House Freedom Caucus have announced they will vote in unison…the implication being it will be against McCarthy.
    Let chaos reign!!!

  18. CSK says:

    It would be truly funny if they ended up with Boehner staying in place because they couldn’t agree on a sufficiently ideologically pure alternative. There’s a distinct possibility that could happen.

  19. C. Clavin says:

    Now the Freedom Caucus has endorsed Webster….

  20. James Pearce says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Now the Freedom Caucus has endorsed Webster….


  21. David M says:

    conservative members of the House GOP Caucus…House Freedom Caucus

    Better known as the “Burn it Down” Caucus. They have no interest in governing.

  22. CSK says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Will they be duking it out with the House Liberty Caucus and the House Tea Party caucus?

  23. Tony W says:

    Fine. I’ll run. Where do I sign up again?

  24. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    What would really make things interesting is if a handful of GOP moderates defected and elected Nancy Pelosi. That would be hysteric, um, historic.

  25. David in KC says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Wouldn’t be Pelosi, but its not outside of the realm of possibility that a moderate democrat or a moderate republican couldn’t pull it off with 100% democrat support and a smattering of sane republican support.

  26. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @David in KC: I chose Pelosi because some interwebs post suggested that Pelosi would only need about a dozen RINOs to retake the speakership. That writer also suggested that whoever wins the speakership will require Democrat votes to do so and end up in the same boat as Boehner.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    And HEEERE we go!

    Pass the popcorn, someone.

  28. Mikey says:

    @grumpy realist: I figured McCarthy was toast after he accidentally told the truth about the Benghazi “investigation.”

  29. Mikey says:

    NPR story on the McCarthy withdrawal–apparently some members were in tears:

    Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., said the meeting opened, Republicans said the Pledge and then McCarthy stood up and took himself out of the race. The prohibitive favorite said he didn’t want members to take arrows for voting for him and that he was taking himself out of contention.

    Speaker Boehner then immediately moved to adjourn the meeting. Rooney said there was “total shock” and some members were audibly crying.