Tom Emmer, the House Majority Whip, basked in the glory of being the Republican Speaker-designate for even less time than Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH). Nominated to be the next House Speaker after five rounds of voting on Tuesday morning, Oct. 24, Emmer had dropped his bid for the gavel a little before 5 p.m. the same day. Like the two previous contenders to fill Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) vacated office, he wasn’t going to get the votes. Whether it was a factor or not, Emmer hoisted the white flag shortly after former President Donald Trump blasted him in a Truth Social post, suggesting that Emmer’s election to Speaker “would be a tragic mistake.” Next up in the arena as Speaker-designate is GOP Conference Vice Chair Mike Johnson of Louisiana. And while his nomination was met with actual cheers, without an examination of why Emmer burned out so spectacularly, another round of voting could be an exercise in embarrassing futility.
The Minnesota Republican beat out nine original candidates, though six remained when the closed-door voting began on Tuesday. In a sign that many GOP members were growing impatient to get a new Speaker in place, several lawmakers indicated they would vote for whoever could get the 217 Republican votes needed to end the 21-day crisis in the lower chamber. Even some of those who rebelled against McCarthy’s speakership said they would be open to supporting Emmer if he could get it done. That wasn’t good enough, though, as at least 25 Republicans opposed his nomination.
Tom Emmer – Conservative, Moderate, or RINO?
Trump took to his social media platform to express his skepticism regarding Emmer, questioning his motives and loyalties. The final sentence of his post left no one in any doubt about where he stood on the new Speaker-designate: “Voting for a Globalist RINO like Tom Emmer would be a tragic mistake!” RINO is a favored acronym among staunch conservatives. It stands for Republican in name only. Based on the representative’s voting record, that label would certainly fit, as far as conservatives are concerned. Others might call him a moderate, perhaps. Despite professing his belief in limited government and states’ rights – and, more recently, his support of Trump – Tom Emmer has never endeared himself to that wing of the party.
In the final round of voting for a Speaker-designate, Emmer received 117 votes to Mike Johnson’s 97. The closeness of that tally placed Johnson front and center to be the next in line to try to pass through what has become a revolving door leading to the office of House Speaker. Should Johnson also end up falling between the divided cracks of the party conference, Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK) has plenty of support, as does Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida. Both have dropped out of the contest, but each might be convinced to return if victory seems likely.
On Oct. 25, members of the Republican conference will have some soul-searching to do if they are to quickly end the Speaker chaos that began three weeks ago when McCarthy was ousted. It’s establishment versus conservative factions, and the members of one or the other will inevitably have to grit their teeth and support whichever candidate shows he can get the required votes. When the entire Democratic caucus went along with eight Republican rebels to remove McCarthy, they probably couldn’t have dreamed things would turn out so well for them. The majority party was led into a trap from which it appears unable – or perversely unwilling – to free itself. Deals and compromises will have to be made among dissenting GOPers, it seems, to escape the morass.