House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy hopes all goes well when it comes to becoming Speaker of the House. As much as he might have thought, he won’t, ahead of the new Congress that begins Tuesday.
McCarthy’s problems securing the top spot in the House are easier to understand once you understand the hands he was dealt. He was historically the first-ever possible majority to become Speaker, and McCarthy himself is historically unpopular compared to other House members who have tried to become Speaker.
McCarthy’s Republicans could secure only 222 seats in the 2022 midterm elections, leaving little room for error to win 218 votes. McCarthy can only afford to lose the support of his four Republicans, and the list of Republican lawmakers who have said they will vote against him is longer.
No one since Democrat John Nance Garner in 1931 could have been the first Speaker of the House to win a larger majority. The only recent first-time speaker close to McCarthy’s current status is former Illinois Representative Dennis Hastert, whose 1999 Republican entry into the party. 223 seats. Hastert had the advantage of being a compromise after Newt Gingrich resigned after the 1998 midterm elections and his successor, Bob Livingston, resigned following revelations of his extramarital affairs.
In fact, every other potential first-time Speaker of the House in the last 90 years won a majority of at least 230 seats. Any party chairman who held fewer seats had incumbent powers (that is, he had been elected to that position at least once before).
Remember McCarthy was near the speaker before. When Republican John Boehner stepped down in 2015, he was set to become the next chairman.
At the time, McCarthy had 245 Republican seats, ahead of a possible chairman for the first time in 30 years. If he didn’t get his 218 votes, he might wonder how he could get his 218 votes, in a far more favorable situation.
The poll provides some answer to this question and helps explain why McCarthy is facing an uphill battle in the first place.
A CNN/SSRS poll last month found his net positive rating (that is, positive minus negative rating) among Republicans at +30 points. That’s certainly not bad. (Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is notoriously underrated among Republicans.) But a +30 point net favorability rating isn’t great either.
Another way to frame it: McCarthy is liked by Republicans, but not loved. There is no wave of grassroots support demanding that he become a speaker.
McCarthy has the second lowest net favorability rating of any party member likely to speak for the first time in the last 28 years. In late 1994 he was only +24 points lower than Gingrich. Boehner (late 2010) and Nancy Pelosi (late 2006), among others, earned more than +50 points of net favorability among party followers.
The good news for McCarthy is that he is much more liked now than he was in late 2015, when his net favorability among Republicans was just +2 points. had far more politically attractive options.
The former vice presidential candidate’s Republican approval rating was +48 points.
The biggest problem McCarthy’s Republican adversaries currently have is that they don’t have Ryan. It’s hard for him to beat anything without having anything.
Under these circumstances, it’s not hard to imagine another scenario unfolding. McCarthy to become chairman with less than 218 of his votes. He needs a majority of the House of Representatives to vote for the presidency. If enough members stay home or attend and vote, the majority threshold can be lowered.
No premiere has received less than 218 votes in at least 110 years, but it’s happened many times to modern sitting speakers. In the last Congress, Pelosi was re-elected as Speaker with his 216 votes. The 2015 Boehner was no different. In fact, in the last century he seems to have had his five speakers elected with fewer than 218 votes.
Many Republicans may find that while they cannot vote for McCarthy, there does not appear to be a viable Republican alternative for McCarthy to become chairman at this time. You may not vote yes or no at all. This allows him to slip, assuming he has more votes than the new House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries.
Either way, all this Republican angst is a pretty decent consolation prize for the Democrats after losing their House majority. It looks like it can’t be done.
If McCarthy were to become Speaker of the House, his net approval rating for all adults of -19 points would be the worst for a first-time Speaker of the House in 30 years. +18 points) is far less popular among all Americans when first elected. Both later became political targets exploited by minority political parties.