Kevin McCarthy needed 15 tries to become speaker of the House. The first man who hoped to succeed him pulled out of the contest before the House voted on his nomination. The second tried and failed three times to secure the gavel.
On Tuesday, House Republicans’ humiliation continued when Tom Emmer of Minnesota pulled out of the contest after just four hours as the GOP’s fourth nominee for speaker this year.
Emmer could not end the civil war unleashed by the eight Republicans — led by Florida’s Rep. Matt Gaetz — voted to oust McCarthy from the speakership with Democrats’ help on Oct. 3.
Former President Trump’s opposition to Emmer’s candidacy helped doom the Minnesotan’s hopes of resolving the crisis.
In a TruthSocial post just hours after Emmer was selected, Trump blasted his party’s new nominee, writing: “I have many wonderful friends wanting to be Speaker of the House, and some are truly great Warriors. [Republican In Name Only] Tom Emmer, who I do not know well, is not one of them.”
The former president added that Emmer had “never respected the Power of a Trump Endorsement, or the breadth and scope of MAGA.”
Trump’s repeated interventions in the speaker race showcases the GOP’s divisions, Alex Conant, a Republican strategist, told The Times.
“Trump is trying to prevent the next generation of Republican leaders from emerging, which is dividing the party to consolidate power around himself,” Conant said.
As president, Trump ruled his party with an iron fist. He was a bona fide kingmaker few dared to cross, and his endorsements in primaries boosted far-right candidates eager to come to Washington. But after losing the 2020 presidential election and stoking the Jan. 6 insurrection, he’s left a stain that some Republicans are eager to wash away.
“He wants to be the leader, but the problem is that a significant number of Republicans want to move on,” Conant added.
Trump’s preferred candidate for the speakership, Ohio’s Rep. Jim Jordan, left the race last week after losing three votes on the House floor. Before that, Republicans had voted against Trump’s wishes and picked Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who, like Emmer, quickly dropped out after it became clear he would never get enough support on the floor.
“There’s clearly limits to Trump’s power,” Conant said. “If he were actually the party leader, the mess in the House would not happen.”
Despite not having appeared in a GOP primary debate this year as he fends off state and federal criminal charges on allegations of mishandling classified records, attempting to overturn the 2020 election and more, Trump is the front runner in polls for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
In a Morning Consult poll released Monday, 62% of potential GOP primary voters surveyed backed Trump, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in second at just 13%. But polling also shows that Trump is not performing well among swing voters, who tend to decide elections. Still, the Trump wing of the GOP is vying for power.
Robert Stutzman, another GOP strategist, said that deep-red congressional districts have produced “the Matt Gaetzes of the world” and the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose members frequently oppose more traditional Republicans.
“They become all too powerful when the majority margin is so small,” Stutzman said. “But it is imperiling dozens of other Republicans next November. What has resulted is this dysfunction and chaos.”
After Emmer won the speaker nomination Tuesday, several Republican lawmakers were quick to say they would never back him.
Georgia’s Rep. Rick Allen, once a member of the socially conservative Republican Study Committee, said he would never back Emmer due to his vote to codify the right to same-sex marriage.
Fellow Georgian and Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene told reporters she would never back Emmer because he was not conservative enough.
“The GOP conference is changing. And it’s changing to reflect ‘America first.’ Republican voters overwhelmingly support President Trump, and the speaker of the House should reflect that,” she said.
Emmer, who received an 79% lifetime score from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, is also distinguished from Trump in one key way: He voted to certify the results of the 2020 election.
Still, he sought to portray himself as having a positive ties to the former president, thanking him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and saying: “If my colleagues elect me Speaker of the House, I look forward to continuing our strong working relationship.”
It wasn’t enough. House Republicans planned to meet again Tuesday evening to select their fifth nominee for speaker this year.
The infighting may damage the GOP even with its own base, Stutzman warned, noting that Republicans overwhelmingly support sending more aid to Israel for its war against Hamas.
But Republican leaders want to select a speaker before acting on any legislation.
“The stakes having risen in the world could end up making the fighting [reflect] poorly even among the base,” Stutzman said.
No one knows what will happen next, but the party could even turn back to McCarthy and ask him to lead them again, Stutzman argued. Look no further than the fact that McCarthy’s nemesis, Gaetz, tried and failed to help Emmer, McCarthy’s ally, secure the speakership.
“I think it’s a sign Gaetz is ready to wrap this up,” he said. “Gaetz might be realizing this isn’t aging well and could inhibit his future ambitions.”
But the episode showcases how a handful of lawmakers in a party holding a slim majority can leave the country without a functioning legislature.
“For Gaetz and others, it’s a fetish to them to have this much power and attention,” Stutzman said. “To them, it’s a zero-sum game.”
On Tuesday night, House Republicans selected their fifth speaker nominee of the year, Louisiana’s Rep. Mike Johnson.