How the House GOP’s disruptive poles influence the speaker vote
Most Republicans serving in the House simply want the party to get back to doing whatever it was doing before it was constantly voting on who should be speaker. Since the 118th Congress began, the majority caucus has spent more than two weeks arguing about or unsuccessfully voting on someone to lead the chamber. They voted on someone in January and then he eventually won and then they voted him out and then they voted on someone this week, and they still don’t have anyone. And most of the caucus supported the first guy and opposed removing him and supported the second guy just to move everything forward.
The search for the next House speaker
End of carousel
The problem is that the caucus’s majority is just narrow enough that a small number of legislators who don’t simply want to move forward with the majority’s pick for speaker can significantly gum up the works. Since January, the clutch of legislators causing the most problems has been the group that’s more ideologically extreme and from districts that were more supportive of Donald Trump in 2020. But this week it was a new minority, less extreme and more often representing swing districts — but creating a similar sort of problem.
There are 220 members of the Republican conference who have voted on the three speaker-related questions over the course of the year: whether Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) should serve in that position, whether Speaker McCarthy should be removed and whether Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) should take his place.
Of the 220 members who’ve cast votes on all three, 178 have opted for the party line: yes to McCarthy, no to his ouster, yes to Jordan as replacement. But 42 Republicans haven’t.
If we array the legislators by ideology (using DW-NOMINATE scores from Voteview) and how their districts voted in 2020 (using analysis from DailyKos), we see that there’s a loose correlation: less-conservative legislators often represent less-Trump-supportive districts. And those legislators were more likely to oppose Jordan’s bid for speaker on Tuesday.
Let’s get rid of those 178 legislators who voted the way party leaders wanted them to, reducing some of the clutter. When we do, you can see that there are 18 legislators who supported McCarthy (including in the removal vote) and opposed Jordan. There are 20 who opposed McCarthy and support Jordan (five of whom voted to dump McCarthy).
If you’re curious, here’s who each of those dots are.
There are two pools of legislators here. There’s the more-extreme, anti-McCarthy, pro-Jordan orange legislators. And there’s the less-extreme, pro-McCarthy, anti-Jordan purple cluster. Each more than a dozen members big — enough to prevent the caucus from reaching a majority. (You’ll notice Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), an obvious outlier as a purple blip in that sea of orange. As we did on Tuesday, we’ll come back to him.)
Over the course of the year, it’s generally been that orange pool of legislators that has been the thorn in leadership’s side. McCarthy’s election in January was a function of appeasing those legislators, including granting them the ability to vote for his ouster, as ultimately occurred. But that same pressure from the right was applied repeatedly on a number of votes, hampering McCarthy’s ability to win votes.
On Tuesday, the purple pool kept the caucus from approving a new speaker. The reason is generally pretty straightforward: For those coming from swing districts, it was politically risky to approve the nomination of the most ideologically extreme speaker in recent history. Part of it was also probably related to the disruptiveness of the orange pool over the course of the year — opposition to rewarding their efforts to derail the caucus’s work.
If you compare the pool of Jordan opponents with supporters, you get the graph below; clearly the opponents were less ideologically extreme and less likely to be from heavily pro-Trump districts. (Buck is responsible for that uppermost spike in the purple area.)
Now compare that with those who opposed McCarthy’s bid back in January. The orange blob sits at the top of the graph, in the most ideological part of the caucus.
Interestingly, support for ousting McCarthy sat closer to the center. There were fewer legislators who joined this effort and their doing so was at times for reasons specific to their own relationships with McCarthy.
And that’s our segue back to Buck. His opposition to Jordan is centered on the Ohio Republican’s efforts after the 2020 election to overturn the results in Trump’s favor. Buck pressed Jordan (and, when he was in the mix for speaker, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.)) on whether he still would argue that the 2020 election was stolen. Jordan’s refusal to accede to reality kept Buck from supporting him.
On that question, too, the picture is muddy. Most House Republicans voted to reject Biden electors in January 2021, part of the effort to demonstrate fealty to Trump. Many of those who didn’t vote to reject electors were only sworn in this year — but the pool of legislators who joined Jordan (and McCarthy) in refusing to accept the electors largely overlaps with those who didn’t.
The House is expected to once again take up the question of Jordan’s bid for speaker on Wednesday, providing another opportunity for the caucus to weigh in. It seems likely that the purple, less-extreme pole will once again prevent that from happening. The question, then, returns to the one that’s deviled the House GOP since the beginning of the year: Who is there whom both poles can support?