Who will be the new House Whip?

GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California won the vote to replace Eric Cantor as the new GOP House Majority Leader. The question is who replaces McCarthy.

ap497050889186_wide-b95cf9904bccbe9164941cd5055eacd0200975ba-s40-c85 (photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP) [Update: As Doug Mataconis details, as I was writing this post, it was announced that Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise won his bid to become House Whip on the first round of the vote. This makes Scalise the only Southerner on the House Leadership team and, by far, its most conservative member] Earlier today, current GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California won the vote to replace Eric Cantor as the new GOP House Majority Leader. In doing so he defeated a last-minute challenge from the right by Raúl Labrador of Idaho. McCarthy’s election can only be seen as a win for the “establishment” wing of the Republican party. McCarthy has long been part of John Boehner’s inner circle. Further, its worth noting that McCarthy’s Heritage Conservative score ranks below Cantor’s (both of whom rank lower than Labrador). This means that while McCarthy’s performance as House Majority Leader is not expected to not be particularly different from Eric Cantor’s, one can argue that they have chosen a mode “moderate” Republican as the party’s number 2. McCarthy’s ascension to the number 2 position — and the defeat of the more conservative Labrador — suddenly shifts attention onto the number 3 position in the House. There are some very interesting party dynamics at play here. As a recent report from NPR points out, when one looks at recent GOP leadership, one sees a disconnect between the geographic location of the leaders and the location of the party’s base:

If today’s Republican Party can be said to have a center of gravity, it’s in the South.

The states that made up the Confederacy account for less than a third of the country’s total population, yet in the 2012 election they gave Republicans close to half of their membership in the House and accounted for nearly 60 percent of Mitt Romney’s electoral votes.

But in House leadership? There, the South has been underrepresented.

Eric Cantor, who Is stepping down as majority leader after losing in a primary last week, was the only Southerner. The speaker, the majority whip and the conference chairman come from Ohio, California … and Washington. And even Cantor’s Virginia voted for President Obama twice.

It’s something Southern conservatives have noticed, especially on the eve of Thursday’s closed-door conclave to elect a new majority leader. “Southerners think different than Northeasterners, Midwesterners, Plains states people,” says Alabama GOP Rep. Mo Brooks. Brooks thinks it’s unfair that states in the Deep South don’t have so much as a committee chairmanship. “For whatever reason, in this particular conference, the South has been discriminated against, and the heart of the South in particular has been discriminated against, and is zero for the scoreboard,” he says.

So, not only is there a question about the Conservative Wing of they party’s representation in leadership, but also there are also concerns about the representation of the needs of the South. The question is, can a Souther Conservative win the whip position. Currently there is a Southerner running — Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise. However, as NPR notes: “His main opponent is Illinois Rep. Pete Roskam, who is McCarthy’s hand-picked deputy and the choice of many of the establishment Republicans close to the current leaders.”

According to NPR, if Roskam wins he’s promised to appoint a Southerner to the number 4 position. That’s said, it’s difficult to see a Roskam victory as a positive sign for the Southern Conservative wing on the party. Roskam’s Heritage score is equivalent to that of Cantor’s, 52%, better than McCarthy, but far below Scalise’s 81%. Beyond that, it still leaves said to-be-named Southerner in the last position in terms of the GOP line of succession in the House.

Ultimately, the question remains: how long can the GOP function with a significant portion — if not a majority — of it’s base coming from the conservative South and the majority of it’s leadership coming from the more moderate North. At some point, friction from this division is going to come to a head. And it’s not at the election of the new Whip, there is always the Speaker of the House election that will happen this November. While it’s currently highly unlikely that John Boehner will be successfully challenged by anyone from his right, it is possible for the conservative wing of the party to make his reelection as painful as possible.

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Matt Bernius
About Matt Bernius
Matt Bernius is a design researcher working to create more equitable government systems and experiences. He's currently a Principal User Researcher on Code for America's "GetCalFresh" program, helping people apply for SNAP food benefits in California. Prior to joining CfA, he worked at Measures for Justice and at Effective, a UX agency. Matt has an MA from the University of Chicago.


  1. Pinky says:

    The states that made up the Confederacy…

    Oh NPR, sometimes you’re so subtle I can’t even tell what side you’re on.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    Since the Republicans have zero influence on policy and governance in the U.S., does it really matter who fills any of their top leadership positions? The only imporant question is politics in the next few years is when will the Democrats regain control of the House since when that happens the U.S. will officially be a one party state.