Something weird happened in Congress today. Following the announcement by Rep. John Boehner that he would be resigning as Speaker of the House by the end of the month, most people assumed that the next Speaker would be Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who had said he would seek the post. Today, McCarthy announced he was abruptly abandoning his bid, at least in part due to disastrously received comments he made about the Benghazi committee's impact on Hillary Clinton's poll numbers, which he admitted "didn't help."
The surprise announcement apparently caught Republican members so off-guard, they were weeping with rage and confusion in the Capitol:
In addition to being next in line by virtue of his Majority Leader position, McCarthy was also seen as the last chance the GOP establishment had to keep control over its more radical Tea Party wing. His odds immediately took a dive after McCarthy, speaking about his accomplishments with the Benghazi committee, bragged about how it had damaged the poll numbers of the "invincible" Hillary Clinton.
Now the ball is in the air, and the very conservative Freedom Caucus has already convened its 40 members (2012) to discuss options as the establishment does the same. John Boehner has already postponed his retirement date, and some members are pressing him to stay on until 2016.
Who could take the role next is unclear. Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's former running mate, would likely win the spot if not for the fact that he is completely uninterested in getting yelled at by conservatives for doing anything and by the rest of the country for doing virtually nothing.
Florida Republican Daniel Webster has been nominated by the Freedom Caucus and is a favorite of the Tea Party. He is seen as possibly appealing to the general GOP caucus for his deep institutional knowledge of the House, but is still a very conservative member.
The consensus now seems to be that a "caretaker" should fill the slot—someone respected but who is unlikely to stay longer than it takes to find a more vibrant new Speaker, like the Education and Workforce Committee chairman John Kline of Minnesota, who is not running for re-election.
So why did McCarthy do this without warning today, surprising his fellow Republicans with an announcement in a room with such bad acoustics that many weren't even sure what happened until after the conference ended? There are three options: 1) The Benghazi comments really did reduce his support, to the point that (as he said in his statement) he only had 220 votes in his party, just 2 more than are needed. 2) Like Boehner himself, perhaps McCarthy realized the job is not worth the headache currently attached to it. 3) There's an as-yet-undiscovered damaging news item that McCarthy chose to avoid. It's probably a combination of 1 and 2, but politicians don't surprise people like this that often, so there's always the cynical hope (from a blogger's perspective) that it could be door #3.