Three quick points on congressional leadership contests:
- Everyone lies. Members running for leadership positions lie about how many votes they have. Those who aren't running lie to the candidates about their intentions. It’s not unusual for the total vote commitments claimed by the candidates to wildly exceed the total number of senators or representatives in the relevant caucus. Which means, among other things, that as long as multiple candidates are running, the results are always going to have some uncertainty. So follow the reporting, but remember to be skeptical of all claims. Right now, for example, multiple reports have the House majority whip, Kevin McCarthy, wrapping up the majority leader contest. I have no reason to believe that's not true, but as long as there are two or more candidates, there's still some uncertainty.
- These are almost always quintessentially insider contests. Which means, among other things, that the narratives spun by outsiders (the press, but also party actors outside the chamber) sometimes have little to do with what’s actually happening. So the current House Republican contests could be driven by “establishment”/insurgent divisions, but they also could be driven by state delegation politics, or by issues of internal House governance, or it may just come down to who is liked and disliked.
- As a rule, House party leadership is far more important than Senate leadership. But don’t go overboard, even for House positions. The party leadership does have quite a bit of latitude, but as we’ve seen repeatedly during this 113th Congress, the leadership can’t and won’t go against the party majority, and sometimes can’t even go against an intense party minority.
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