Politics: Should Kevin McCarthy Be Big Favorite In Next House Speaker Odds?

Written By Evan Scrimshaw on December 6, 2022 - Last Updated on December 21, 2022
kevin mccarthy

One of the last consequences of the 2022 Midterms is still yet to play out, with the House of Representatives still having to elect their Speaker of the House in the new year, a position that is third in line to the Presidency behind Vice President. With Kevin McCarthy having been the Republican Minority Leader who took them back into the majority, you’d think he’d have this on cruise control. And yet, he doesn’t.

Next House Speaker Odds

RepresentativePriceOdds Equivalent
Kevin McCarthy$0.77-335
Steve Scalise$0.10+900
Elise Stefanik$0.04+2400
Jim Jordan$0.03+3233
Jim Banks$0.02+4900

House Math For Kevin McCarthy

The GOP has won a 222-213 majority in the House of Representatives after the midterms. With this majority, if nobody in either party breaks ranks, the GOP should win every vote by nine; although, as of now, the death of one Democratic congressman means they will have an effective majority of 10. That said, only five Republicans have to vote against their party to deprive them of a majority, assuming no Democrats break ranks the other way.  

Kevin McCarthy can afford to lose, therefore, four votes and still win election to the Speakership. The Speaker is elected when the majority of House members voting pick a candidate. So Republican leaders cannot threaten their members that voting against McCarthy will enable Democrats to elect Hakeem Jeffries as their new Speaker of the House.

For Republicans, McCarthy needs to pass the bar of 218 members, even with the not-full House. 217 votes would not constitute a majority of all voting members. Given he has 222 members, that seems like it shouldn’t be a problem.

Except 30 of them voted against him in the GOP’s internal party ballot that pitted McCarthy against Andy Biggs, who only ran as a show of strength and is not in any way a credible candidate.

McCarthy’s Critics

The radical, far-right wing of the GOP – also known as the Freedom Caucus – hates McCarthy because they don’t actually think he is committed to their principles, and they don’t think he’s strong enough. Their fears are simple – that McCarthy will be rolled by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell in every consequential fight.

That fear makes a lot of sense – that is the traditional pattern of House and Senate dynamics, and even routinely happened with Nancy Pelosi, who always had more internal clout within both the House Democratic caucus and the broader Congressional Party than McCarthy and routinely got bounced by Harry Reid or Chuck Schumer.

The problem is that dynamic will exist whether it’s McCarthy or anyone else. In a House where the number of Republicans whose seats will be lost by 10% if the U.S. even remotely is seen to risk full faith and credit, whoever is in the Speaker’s chair will have to fold on everything important.

On every spending bill and the debt ceiling, whoever is GOP leader will fold all the time – a fact the right of the GOP hates. Had they won a majority like what they won in 2016, where 20+ Republicans needed to break ranks to kill a bill, this might be different, but when the House GOP majority could be erased solely in districts where their margin of victory is smaller than the number of people who work for a Wall Street firm, they’re gonna have to back down.

And the far right hates this fact.

Kevin McCarthy already has five firm No votes – Andy Biggs, Bob Good, Matt Gaetz, Ralph Norman, and Matt Rosendale – with a lot of undecideds and private No votes waiting. The right is seeking a radical amount of power to essentially bypass McCarthy and neuter the Speakership, and if McCarthy gives in, he starts to have a problem on his moderate flank.

That said, let’s assume McCarthy can keep the moderates on board – the path to flipping any of those five is almost non-existent. Gaetz is a longtime enemy and his whole political plan is to be a pain in the House leadership’s rear end to keep up his celebrity with right-wing media. Norman, Good, and Biggs have been much too vocal in the hardness of their No votes to credibly back down without a huge scalp, and Rosendale is trying to win a Senate primary in 2024 in Montana by being the staunchest conservative in the field. None of these people can flip and maintain their credibility.

At the point at which McCarthy fails to win the intransigent five, the floodgates will open. Unlike Pelosi in 2018, who had detractors in the party, McCarthy didn’t do well this year. Pelosi would have faced a credible challenge in 2018 had she been seen to underperform, but she won 40 seats.

Kevin McCarthy netted 10, and the problem is the GOP had convinced themselves 30 gains was the bar for a good night.

Other Contenders

Plainly, Steve Scalise at 10 cents (+900) is a monstrosity.

I understand why McCarthy is the price he is in a sense – he is still the GOP leader, after all – but if he fails, there is one person who can plausibly be the Speaker. Scalise is no great shakes – someone who gave a speech to the Klan in 2002 and tried to claim he was unaware of their ideology at the time – but he is a serious person, unlike McCarthy, for whom Scalise is greatly the intellectual superior.

Scalise has more credibility with the right and will be able to get them to trust him to not sell them out in every major deal with the Senate – he will, of course, do that, but he will at least fight more credibly than McCarthy can. Scalise will position himself as the unity candidate that can bring the Biggs faction and the moderates together around wild investigations (starting, probably, with Hunter Biden) and fiscal prudence, trying to bring together the ‘burn it all down’ faction of Republicans with those who think a more moderate spending policy will keep their New York and New Jersey seats.

Conclusion

Scalise is, in my view, the single most likely person to be the next Speaker, because he is the only credible non-McCarthy. Elize Stefanik is a nutter, but, more importantly, she’s new to the leadership.

Any idea that a Democrat could get over the line is fanciful – even if Biggs gets 30 votes and every Democrat votes for Jeffries, making him the highest single vote getter, he would not win.

Scalise should be, at minimum, in with a more substantial shot than this, and credibly could be favored because of how weak McCarthy’s position in.

This price is ludicrous.

Evan Scrimshaw Avatar
Written by
Evan Scrimshaw

View all posts by Evan Scrimshaw