Aristotle said “nature abhors a vacuum.” Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning primary defeat last night has left a rather large one in the House GOP power structure, and the resulting struggle is likely to get bloody.“It's very fluid. There will be a lot of maneuvering,” one lawmaker said.
The current whip, Kevin McCarthy, is widely expected to vie for Cantor's spot. He may find a challenge from House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, who conservatives are encouraging to run. Former Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan is also considered in the mix, especially since Hensarling had been privately adamant before Cantor's loss he did not intend to seek a leadership spot in the next Congress.
The Republican Study Committee chairman, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), is preparing to announce a bid for the presumed vacancy at whip, a GOP aide said, and will likely compete against chief deputy whip Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL). The current GOP Conference Chair, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, may also compete for the spot, but she is not considered likely to win a race for it.
There is still an outside chance Cantor may try to hang on to his seat through a write-in election, although the climb would be steep. Even in the event he did, it would be difficult for him to retain his grip on the Majority Leader position, Republicans say.
A statement from Speaker John Boehner about Cantor's loss was widely remarked to read more like the reaction to a person's death than a momentary setback. “My thoughts are with him and Diana and their kids tonight,” Boehner said.
Members processing the shocking news of Cantor's demise last night mused that Boehner, seeking to shore up his right flank, may look to join forces with a high-profile conservative, perhaps to take Cantor's open seat.
If Boehner did maneuver to back someone, it would signal he intends to stay on in the next Congress, one former leadership aide said, but if he did not, it could mean the opposite. “If he's hands off, members will assume he's leaving,” the source said.
Leadership aides largely said it was too early to speculate on the matter. “We don't know what Eric is doing,” one senior aide said.