Kevin McCarthy, who would become speaker if Republicans retake the chamber, could face a series of headaches. But beyond him, the nation might struggle to avoid a damaging default on its debt.
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If Representative Kevin McCarthy, left, becomes speaker of the House, he will have to manage a Republican caucus that has shifted ever further to the right.
Josh Brecheen, an ardent Republican who is virtually assured of victory in November to represent an overwhelmingly red House seat in eastern Oklahoma, has a message that is geared as much toward G.O.P. leaders in Washington as it is toward his party’s voters: He’s not going to the Capitol to make friends.
“Whomever is elected to this seat will be groomed for conformity into moderate positions and debt spending by the Republican establishment,” he proclaims on his campaign website. “Only a rare few won’t feast at the buffet of compromise.”
Mr. Brecheen assures voters he won’t be tempted.
As the general election season begins in earnest, the House Republican conference appears destined for a more conservative, fractious future no matter which party wins a majority, thanks to the candidates chosen by voters in the most solidly G.O.P. districts.
Numerous Republican contenders in battleground districts have taken fringe positions or espoused conspiracy theories. Democrats have trained their sights on these candidates, hoping to block a wave of extremism. But the number of open seats in solidly Republican districts means that the G.O.P. is still favored to secure a narrow majority.
That could spell trouble for Republican leaders like Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the man who would be speaker, and their ability to govern.
It could also mean that the government will struggle to perform such mundane tasks as keeping itself from defaulting on its debt and plunging the global financial system into chaos. At the same time, a Republican-led stream of impeachments, as some lawmakers have promised for the attorney general, the homeland security secretary, the education secretary and the president, could serve as an endless string of distractions for the executive branch.
“I will operate in kindness and love, and at the same time take hard stands,” Mr. Brecheen said in an interview, vowing, for instance, never to vote to raise the government’s borrowing limit, despite the risk of undermining the world’s faith in federal bond sales. “At some point, we have to draw a line in the sand.”
ImageJosh Brecheen, a Republican who is all but certain to win his House race in Oklahoma, has vowed never to vote to raise the government’s borrowing limit, despite the worldwide financial risks.Credit…Nate Billings, The Oklahoman, via USA Today Network
Other candidates have emerged who could revive a corps of conservatives who bedeviled past G.O.P. speakers as they tried to raise Washington’s statutory borrowing limit, keep the government funded and operating, and approve annual military and intelligence policy bills. Such prospects seem so harrowing that one former Republican leadership aide, who insisted on anonymity, said he hoped Democratic leaders would raise the debt ceiling in the lame-duck session of Congress this winter rather than risk the first-ever default on United States government debt.
“I think it’ll be very difficult,” said Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with the nonpartisan publication Inside Elections, a political forecaster. “It’s been remarkable to see Nancy Pelosi handle a narrow majority. So it is possible to pass bills with only a couple of votes to spare.”
The State of the 2022 Midterm Elections
With the primaries winding down, both parties are starting to shift their focus to the general election on Nov. 8.
- Battleground Pennsylvania: Few states feature as many high-stakes, competitive races as Pennsylvania, which has emerged as the nation’s center of political gravity.
- The Dobbs Decision’s Effect: Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the number of women signing up to vote has surged in some states and the once-clear signs of a Republican advantage are hard to see.
- How a G.O.P. Haul Vanished: Last year, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans was smashing fund-raising records. Now, most of the money is gone.
- Digital Pivot: At least 10 G.O.P. candidates in competitive races have updated their websites to minimize their ties to former President Donald J. Trump or to adjust their stances on abortion.
But, he added, “Kevin McCarthy is not Nancy Pelosi.”
Since Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” of 1994, compromise in some corners of the party has been a dirty word, and those corners have grown, first with the Tea Party movement of 2010, then with the “America First” wave of Donald J. Trump’s era.
The former president’s hold on the party has added an element of uncertainty: The self-described America First Caucus, a small group of House members whose loyalty to him appears to eclipse all else, is likely to grow next year. And the group could break with the Republican House leadership at any time if Mr. Trump orders it to do so.
“If Trump endorses McCarthy and stays with him, these folks will stay with him,” said Doug Heye, a Republican leadership aide during the Obama-era G.O.P. majorities. “But,” he added, “all bets are off if Trump pulls away.”
It is not hard to discern where the pressure points will develop.
ImageRepresentative Marjorie Taylor Greene and other House Republicans loyal to former President Donald J. Trump have formed what they call the America First Caucus.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Paul Gosar of Arizona have already formed the core of a House caucus that is loyal to Mr. Trump and further to the right than the House Freedom Caucus and its predecessors, groups of conservatives who tormented the two most recent Republican speakers, John Boehner and Paul D. Ryan. The House Republicans’ right flank forced the shutdown of much of the federal government several times, and nearly prompted a default on government debt.
Joe Kent, a retired Green Beret who defeated Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington State last month with Mr. Trump’s blessing, has made it clear he intends to make waves in the Capitol. On a recent appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, he promised those who sympathize with the Capitol rioters, “We hear you, we’re going to go back, we’re going to look at the election of 2020.” He added, “We’re going to disclose to the American people once and for all what actually happened — release all the footage.”
Andy Ogles, who is heavily favored to win a newly drawn seat in Tennessee that was designed to wipe out a Democratic district in Nashville, called for his state attorney general to join other Republican attorneys general seeking to overturn Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory in Pennsylvania.
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“I would hope that he’d be a thorn in the side of leadership,” said James Garrett, the chairman of the Republican Party of Davidson County, the district’s base.
Max Miller, a former White House aide to Mr. Trump and the Republican nominee for a G.O.P.-leaning district in Ohio, has made loyalty to the former president his calling card.
Eric Burlison, a shoo-in to represent an open district in southwestern Missouri, has pushed legislation in the Missouri State Senate that would grant blanket immunity to anyone “who uses or threatens to use physical or deadly force in self-defense” unless the violence was against a law enforcement officer. Not even the conservative state legislature would pass it.
Mike Collins, who is nearly certain to win an open seat in Georgia, pressed for a “forensic audit” of Georgia’s 2020 ballots, even though they were counted, then recounted by hand to confirm Mr. Biden’s victory in the state. He has promised voters, “I am your pro-Trump, ‘Give Me Back My America First’ agenda candidate.”
And Keith Self, who faces only nominal Democratic opposition before he wins a seat in Texas’ Third Congressional District, could also fortify the flank on the leadership’s right.
None of the candidates besides Mr. Brecheen responded to requests for comment.
For some far-right House candidates, victory is not guaranteed. Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee, lost a special election last week to fill the remainder of the term vacated by Alaska’s longtime representative, Don Young, who died in office in March. But she will try again in November, this time for a full term and a chance to resume her role as a leading conservative scene-stealer.
“It’s a real political full-circle moment to see her re-emerge on the national stage,” Mr. Rubashkin said. “Politics have moved so much in her direction since her exit, it’s kind of poetic.”
J.R. Majewski, the surprise victor in an Ohio Republican primary in May, has flirted with the QAnon conspiracy theory, fulminated against what he has called “a fake pandemic organized by a fake government to hijack a fake election,” and was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The new lines of Ohio’s Ninth District were drawn by Republican state legislators to try to end the career of Representative Marcy Kaptur, one of the Buckeye State’s last Democrats in Congress, and the race is considered a tossup.
In Nevada, Sam Peters, who is locked in a close contest to unseat Representative Steven Horsford, a Democrat, has used a QAnon hashtag on social media and once declared that Mr. Trump could not have lost Wisconsin in 2020 because he had the backing of Brett Favre, the former Green Bay Packers star.
Then there are the Trump-aligned candidates with tough roads ahead but clear shots at victory, like Bo Hines, a 27-year-old who is running for a swing seat in North Carolina as the state’s next brash young conservative, now that Representative Madison Cawthorn has lost his re-election bid. Sandy Smith, also in North Carolina, and Brandon Williams in upstate New York could win as well in a good Republican year. Both have strong Trump credentials.
ImageBo Hines, a Trump-aligned House candidate, is running for a swing seat in North Carolina.Credit…Veasey Conway for The New York Times
When Republicans were predicting a seismic sweep in November, the influence of the far-right caucus was less worrying for leadership. A strong Republican majority would give Mr. McCarthy room to maneuver — and to lose support from some far-right Republicans on raising the debt ceiling and funding the government. Now, however, as political winds shift toward the Democrats, prognosticators like David Wasserman, a House analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, see a narrow 10-to-20-seat Republican majority and trouble ahead.
Even with leverage, the Trump wing would have to know how to use it. Brendan Buck, who served as a top aide to Mr. Ryan when he was speaker, said that the House Freedom Caucus had never been clear on its policy aims, but that its members understood parliamentary procedures — how to threaten the tenure of a speaker — and how to use their unity and membership totals to wreak havoc.
The Greene-Boebert-Gaetz wing has never shown such acumen, Mr. Buck said, but it has something that Freedom Caucus leaders in the past and present have never had — a loyal, large following.
“At this point, they are way ahead of where the Freedom Caucus was in terms of outside strength,” Mr. Buck said. “They have huge profiles. They can get people animated more than the Freedom Caucus ever could.”