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Knives out

Kevin McCarthy's quest to become speaker is off to a lousy start

With dozens of races still uncalled, the future of the United States House of Representatives remains decidedly in flux. Nevertheless, since all indications point toward a Republican majority after Tuesday's midterm elections, GOP members of Congress have ramped up their jockeying for influence in the coming term. But with the predicted Republican "red wave" manifesting more as a slight ripple against an unexpectedly strong Democratic showing, it's House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) who suddenly finds a once straightforward path to becoming the Speaker of the House decidedly less clear. 

"I would say 'not so fast,'" Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) cautioned on Wednesday when asked by conservative broadcaster Emerald Robinson about the inevitability of a McCarthy speakership. 

"Kevin McCarthy has not done anything to earn my vote for speaker," Virginia Rep. Bob Good told Axios on Wednesday as well. While Freedom Caucus vice-chair and presumptive Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has backed McCarthy's speaker bid, fellow far-right congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) raised the possibility that Jordan would himself become speaker during a post-midterm podcast interview with his colleague. 

In part, the stumbling blocks in McCarthy's path are a product of a natural bartering process between different factions within the GOP: The narrower the Republican's House majority ends up, the more he'll need to appease the rightmost side of his caucus into giving him their votes; already he has promised to reinstate MAGA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to her committee posts under a GOP majority. As Greene explained in October to The New York Times: "to be the best speaker of the House and to please the base, [McCarthy is] going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway." Should he become speaker, McCarthy will likely be forced to continually appease the hard-right wing of his caucus to secure their crucial support for a legislative agenda that will be largely driven by their bloc.

Beyond the typical wheeling and dealing to secure the speakership, McCarthy must also contend with a growing sentiment among some in the party that the GOP's lackluster midterms performance was somewhat his fault — despite his having raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Republican candidates. Some conservative commentators have called for McCarthy's ousting for failing to lead the Republicans to his promised 60-vote majority, while Gaetz has reportedly been actively whipping colleagues to vote against a McCarthy speaker's bid. 

McCarthy has been here before, having failed to succeed then-Speaker John Boehner nearly a decade ago. Unlike then, McCarthy now has the endorsement of the most powerful animating force in Republican politics: former President Donald Trump. But with Republicans increasingly frustrated with what they see as Trump's deleterious influence on the midterm results, some have begun questioning whether the former president might move to deflect those criticisms by joining those in the party looking to blame McCarthy. If he does, it's possible the cracks beginning to show across McCarthy's path to the speaker's gavel could break wide open.