Opinion

Why did Kevin McCarthy quit?

The House majority leader seemed ready to succeed John Boehner as speaker. Then he abruptly dropped out. What happened?

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stunned Washington — and much of America — on Thursday afternoon when he abruptly withdrew his bid to become the next speaker of the House.

All indications were that the California Republican was aggressively campaigning for the job, and was easily the odds-on favorite to win it. "No one saw this coming," as NBC's Luke Russert said today, noting that at as recently as 8 a.m., McCarthy had clearly reiterated his interest in succeeding John Boehner.

By all accounts, McCarthy was on track to easily win the preliminary GOP conference vote today, though he was still short of the 218 votes he would have needed to win the speakership on the floor. But it's not like anyone else was close to the requisite number of votes.

McCarthy, of course, stumbled badly over his recent Benghazi comments — giving Hillary Clinton fodder to accuse House Republicans of some vast right-wing conspiracy against her — but again, that didn't seem to deter him as recently as this morning. As such, McCarthy's sudden and shocking decision has led sources on the Hill to speculate that something must have changed.

One thing clearly did change. Last night, the Freedom Caucus decided to back rival Rep. Dan Webster of Florida for the speakership. It's plausible that McCarthy didn't want the job after the conservative Freedom Caucus showed they were going to make his life hell.

But there's more. Many conservatives are buzzing over rumors — and let's be clear, they are unsubstantiated rumors that both parties deny — that McCarthy had carried on an affair with Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.). And indeed, Ellmers had a rather interesting quote in The Hill today that can plausibly be read as dovetailing with the rumors. "[McCarthy] has not spoken to me personally for my vote, and Jason Chaffetz has, so that's where I am right now," she said, adding: "I'm apparently not high on his priority list."

Let's be clear: Both McCarthy and Ellmers deny the affair, and there is nothing beyond rumors suggesting it. (Ellmers sent a cease-and-desist letter to a website reporting allegations of the affair.) But as RedState's Erick Erickson writes, the veracity of the allegation may not even matter to McCarthy's political career: "[T]he rumor itself may have led to McCarthy's collapse. It has become a louder buzz over the past few days with more and more people on and off the Hill talking about it. Once Ellmers' odd quote was out there, the buzzing became chatter."

Add to the whole weird mix this, from a letter that Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) wrote to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.):

With all the voter distrust of Washington felt around the country, I am asking that any candidate for speaker of the House, majority leader, and majority whip withdraw himself from the leadership election if there are any misdeeds he has committed since joining Congress that will embarrass himself, the Republican Conference, and the House of Representatives if they become public. [via Politico]

Of course, putting aside the palace intrigue, all of this has enormous implications for the GOP and the nation. The GOP's presidential primary race legitimately risks nominating Donald Trump and descending into a parody. And now the Republican-controlled Congress is in total chaos. No one wants to be speaker (not even obvious savior Paul Ryan). All of this comes with the backdrop of a coming debt ceiling deadline in November that comes before another big budget vote in December.

What a mess. Could Republicans have imagined a more nightmarish series of political events a year out from a presidential election? Sadly, I doubt it.

More From...

Picture of Matt K. LewisMatt K. Lewis
Read All
What being a father taught me about God
Just as God knows what's best for me, I know what's best for my sons.
Opinion

What being a father taught me about God

U.S. workers' epidemic of demoralization
Matt K. Lewis
The Bullpen

U.S. workers' epidemic of demoralization

The honesty and dignity of Lindsey Graham
The senator will be missed this 2016 race.
Opinion

The honesty and dignity of Lindsey Graham

The political charade of Obama's Keystone rejection
President Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone pipeline in 2012.
Opinion

The political charade of Obama's Keystone rejection

Recommended

Democrats' redistricting effort that could relinquish the party's power
McConnell discusses gerrymandering
backfire

Democrats' redistricting effort that could relinquish the party's power

Where outing the GOP lawmakers at Jan. 6 proved futile
Jan. 6 riot.
'his street cred went up'

Where outing the GOP lawmakers at Jan. 6 proved futile

Joe Manchin's 'arbitrary centrism'
Joe Manchin.
the manchin problem

Joe Manchin's 'arbitrary centrism'

Democrats' religious hypocrisy is on display in Virginia
A bullhorn.
Samuel Goldman

Democrats' religious hypocrisy is on display in Virginia

Most Popular

Sicilian Catholic diocese bans godparents
Baptism at Vatican
'It's an experiment'

Sicilian Catholic diocese bans godparents

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers
Help wanted sign
Help Wanted

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers

Halloween Kills scores best pandemic debut for a horror film
Halloween Kills
purely and simply evil

Halloween Kills scores best pandemic debut for a horror film