Author’s note: This article was written prior to Kevin McCarthy being removed as Speaker of the House on Tuesday afternoon
The 2023 election for the 55th Speaker of the House of Representatives was a four-day long process that forced Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to make numerous concessions to hardline Freedom Caucus members in order to win the speakership. The most important of these concessions was a rule that any representative could make a “motion to vacate,” which would force a vote to remove the Speaker. In the wake of the passing of a stopgap bill to avoid a government shutdown, which nearly every House Democrat supported, Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has announced that he will file a motion to vacate the chair this week. Gaetz, who should have pursued his true career path of a Jim Carrey impersonator, is leading the charge as a result of frustration from the most conservative members of the House. If McCarthy is successfully ousted as Speaker, it raises this important question: Who would his replacement be? Let’s take a closer look at some of the potential candidates who could wind up as the 56th Speaker of the House.
Steve Scalise (R-LA): On paper, Steve Scalise seems like the most logical option to become the next Speaker. He’s currently the House Majority Leader and the no. 2 Republican in the House, positioning him as the heir apparent to McCarthy. He has been a part of House Republican leadership since 2014, making him a solid member of the “Republican establishment” that the Freedom Caucus loves to squawk about. Many would view this as a kiss of death in the modern Trumpublican Party, but Scalise has largely escaped this label thanks to his conservative voting record over his 15 years in office. Scalise was floated as a possible alternative candidate during the past speakership election and will likely be brought up again when Gaetz brings the motion to the floor. The biggest obstacle to clear is if Scalise actually wants the position, as he has been a staunch McCarthy ally and is currently battling blood cancer.
Tom Emmer (R-MN): If Scalise backs out of consideration, the next highest ranking Republican is House Majority Whip Tom Emmer. The five-term congressman from Minnesota led the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2022 when Republicans regained control of the House. Though he appears as another establishment-type candidate, a recent Politico article reported that former Freedom Caucus chair Andy Biggs (R-AZ) brought up Emmer as a potential candidate for Speaker. Biggs would be a critical ally for Emmer, as he would be able to rally Freedom Caucus members to support him. Emmer would also be able to rally the support of establishment conservatives thanks to his role in leadership and his efforts in the 2022 midterms. However, Emmer has publicly said that he has no interest in replacing McCarthy. But if Emmer really does have the support of Biggs, running for Speaker would certainly be something he has to consider.
Elise Stefanik (R-NY): Personally, I find Stefanik to be the most interesting potential candidate for Speaker. The Congresswoman from upstate New York has had quite the political journey, going from a consensus-seeking moderate and Bush protegé to one of Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress. Trump has praised Stefanik numerous times and supported her bid to become Chair of the House Republican Conference after Liz Cheney’s ousting in 2021. Stefanik could successfully tout Trump’s support of her to win over her more conservative colleagues, as many of them worship the ground he walks on. But she would also be able to win over mainstream conservatives as well due to her leadership role. Stefanik is the dark horse candidate in this race and should not be ignored.
Matt Gaetz (R-FL): There are numerous people who I considered to represent the furthest right nutcases in Congress, but I decided to go with the man leading the charge, Gaetz. The firebrand from Florida is a bonafide Trump loyalist and one of the most far-right members of the House. Gaetz would have the unanimous backing of the Freedom Caucus, but would likely struggle to gain the support of the majority of his Republican colleagues. I find it hard to picture establishment conservatives and Republicans in swing districts lining up to support Gaetz, or any far-right demagogue for that matter. The only chance Gaetz would have is if multiple establishment candidates ran and split the vote, thus allowing him to sneak through.
There are a multitude of others who could be in the mix as well, but these are the four leading candidates who I think would have a legitimate shot at the speakership – save for Gaetz, but I couldn’t not include a Freedom Caucus member. If Gaetz’s motion to oust McCarthy is successful, I believe that Stefanik has the best shot to become the next Speaker of the House. She has connections to both the mainstream and hardline factions that make up House Republicans and would be able to win both of these over. Combined with Scalise’s health issues and Emmer’s lack of interest, Stefanik has a legitimate chance to hoist the gavel. Or I could be completely wrong and they go with George Santos to do “own the libs” or something.