The Divisions and Challenges Facing House Republicans in the Speakership Race

Grayson Larkspur

Updated Sunday, October 15, 2023 at 3:55 AM CDT

The Divisions and Challenges Facing House Republicans in the Speakership Race

The race for the House speakership has exposed deep divisions within the Republican Party. From ideological differences to questions of trust in leadership, House Republicans are facing a challenging and contentious battle for the top position.

Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson recently referred to House Republicans as being in the "same stupid clown car with a different driver." This statement highlights the frustration and lack of unity within the party.

Eight Republicans voted alongside Democrats to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker, further exacerbating the divide. This historic division among House Republicans goes beyond ideology and extends to trust in their leaders to compromise.

The recent discussion over House Republican divisions is often framed along the right-left ideological spectrum. The Republicans who voted against McCarthy tend to be more conservative, but it's important to note that there are conservative Republicans who did not vote against him.

One of the key points of contention among Republicans is whether they should try to govern by way of compromise. There is a split within the party on this issue, with some advocating for a more uncompromising approach.

Florida's Matt Gaetz has emerged as the Republican representative who has been the least friendly to party leadership this Congress. His outspoken criticism of party leadership reflects the wider divide within the party.

The difference in willingness to compromise and support party leadership between Republicans is wider than it has been in the past 80 years. This highlights the significant challenges facing the party in finding a consensus candidate for the speakership.

Lawmakers on the edges of the conference have significant influence due to the narrow GOP majority. Representatives like Gaetz were elected by people who support former President Donald Trump.

According to a recent poll, 52% of voters behind Trump in the 2024 GOP primary want Republicans in Congress to stand firm on their beliefs without compromise. On the other hand, only 23% of Republicans not behind Trump prefer lawmakers who don't compromise, while 77% want congressional Republicans who work across the aisle.

It's worth noting that 58% of Republicans are backing Trump in the primary, indicating the influence he still holds within the party.

Interestingly, 56% of Trump supporters approve of McCarthy being removed as speaker after making a deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown. However, among all other Republicans, only 37% approved of McCarthy's ousting.

Republican voters' views on compromising to avert a government shutdown haven't significantly changed in the past decade. This suggests a consistent divide within the party on the issue.

Anti-establishment GOP lawmakers from a decade ago, like Thomas Massie, are no longer seen as anti-establishment enough. The current size of the House GOP majority is more similar to the late 1990s and early 2000s than the tea party era.

In the ongoing speakership race, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, put his name up for the speakership after eight Republicans voted to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. However, Jordan narrowly lost a conference vote for the nomination to Rep. Steve Scalise.

Jordan emerged as the next in line to try for a consensus, but 55 Republican members indicated in a secret ballot that they would not vote for Jordan on the House floor. Jordan wants to take the vote to the House floor, where Republican members would have their votes publicly recorded.

A floor vote will not happen until another GOP conference meeting is held, which would come on either Monday or Tuesday. If Jordan cannot convince enough Republicans to back him as speaker, the caucus will have to find a new candidate.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., predicted that Jordan would not secure the votes needed and more candidates would join the race. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., put his name in for speaker against Jordan but endorsed his rival after losing the first secret GOP ballot.

Republican Study Committee Chair Kevin Hern supported Jordan's recent bid in the GOP caucus meeting. Rep. Tom Emmer has been floating a run for speaker behind the scenes.

Former President Donald Trump has even offered to serve as House speaker temporarily. However, the Constitution does not require the speaker to be an elected representative, but no one outside Congress has ever been elected to the role.

It is unlikely that moderate Republicans would make a deal with Democrats to get a bipartisan majority for a candidate. Democrats are likely to vote for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, but no Republican would back a Democrat for speaker.

Republicans on the Problem Solvers Caucus have grown disenchanted with working across the aisle. Rep. Patrick McHenry became interim speaker after McCarthy's ousting, but his powers are limited.

House Democrats proposed granting McHenry expanded speaker powers in exchange for certain concessions, but it's unclear if the deal would gain enough support. Rep. Kevin McCarthy has publicly backed Rep. Jim Jordan and has not signaled interest in a new bid for the speakership.

The House GOP leadership fight seems more fitting for an Aaron Sorkin script than the real world. With deep divisions and differing ideologies, the race for the speakership will continue to be a challenging and contentious battle for House Republicans.

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