If Election Day 2021 — which Democratic strategists have been describing as a major wake-up call for their party — is any indication, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands a good chance of replacing Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House speaker come January 2023. But journalist Olivia Beavers, in an article published by Politico on November 12, emphasizes that even if Republicans do retake the House in the 2022 midterms, becoming House speaker won't necessarily be a done deal for McCarthy.
"The toughest trial Kevin McCarthy faces on his way to becoming House speaker isn't reclaiming the majority," Beavers explains. "It's what comes afterward. McCarthy and his allies are elated by the strong GOP showing in this month's elections, ambitiously projecting a midterm gain next year to rival the 63-seat wave that swamped House Democrats in 2010. But if Democrats can tamp down the number of Republican victories next fall, then some of McCarthy's own members say the Californian could hit potholes on his road to the gavel."
It isn't hard to understand why Democrats, especially the more progressive ones, are feeling dismayed by the events of Tuesday, November 2, 2021. The biggest disappointment Democrats suffered was Democrat Terry McAuliffe's loss to Republican Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, which has arguably become the most Democrat-friendly state in the South. And in deep blue New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy was reelected but defeated MAGA Republican Jack Ciattarelli by only about 3% — another bad sign for Democrats.
Moreover, history shows that the party that controls the White House is likely to suffer midterm losses. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were two-term presidents who suffered major midterms disappointments. But none of that means that McCarthy can automatically expect to become House speaker if Democrats lose their House majority in November 2022.
"While the GOP is widely favored to take back the House," Beavers notes, "McCarthy needs a majority of votes on the floor in early 2023 in order to ascend to speaker. The minority leader's math problem is simple: The fewer seats Republicans pick up in the midterms, the more powerful his skeptics will become."
During the Biden era, McCarthy has been pandering to MAGA extremists more and more — much to the dismay of Rep. Liz Cheney, an arch-conservative foe of former President Donald Trump and scathing McCarthy critic. But as Beavers explains in her article, some far-right House Republicans still have reservations about McCarthy.
"Broadly speaking, the right isn't fully sold on McCarthy to lead a future GOP majority," Beavers observes. "When asked about her choice, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said she wants Trump to be speaker. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a longtime McCarthy critic who's not in the Freedom Caucus but holds similar views, has said he'll nominate Trump to lead the House should it flip to the GOP. A spokesperson for the former president has said he's not interested in a post that, technically, can go to a non-lawmaker."
At the same time, Beavers notes, some of the more moderate House Republicans, according to Beavers, believe that McCarthy has become too MAGA.
A House Republican, described by Beavers as a "centrist" and interviewed on condition of anonymity, told Politico, "He blew us up. He didn't have to do that. He's raising a lot of money, but Kevin should be worried about his reasonable flank."