Voices: Tom Emmer was doomed before his speaker bid even began

Republican Rep Tom Emmer of Minnesota (AP)
Republican Rep Tom Emmer of Minnesota (AP)

Good evening and welcome to the 21st day of the House Republican speaker thunderdome!

The latest victim: House Majority Whip Tom Emmer.

The Minnesota Republican barely got to enjoy the fact he emerged out of a nine-man (and only men ran for the office) Royal Rumble to win the House GOP conference’s nomination to be speaker of the House before he ultimately ended his bid. This came three weeks to the day since Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) turned the House of Representatives into Mojo Dojo Casa House and booted Kevin McCarthy.

After an all-night candidate forum on Monday and a process of elimination ballot in the Longworth House Office Building, Mr Emmer emerged as the winner.

On paper, he should be a perfect choice for the gavel. An ally of Mr McCarthy, he led the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2020 when they significantly weakened Democrats’ majority in the House and finished the job in 2022. As whip, he should ostensibly be a good vote counter.

He seemed to have some goodwill behind him. None other than Rep Tim Burchett (R-TN), one of the eight Republicans who voted to jettison Mr McCarthy, said he voted for Mr Emmer, telling me, “He's the overwhelming vote-getter.”

But almost as soon as he clinched the nomination, Republicans revolted. Many of the conservatives who backed Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH) opposed him. Similarly, Mr Burchett told me “People are locked in, he’s explaining his position.”

Others might not be as malleable.

“I could have voted for any of the others who put themselves up today on the floor, but I can't vote for someone who doesn't have a conservative track record,” Rep Jim Banks (R-IN) told me shortly after the vote. As friend of the Inside Washington newsletter Olivia Beavers at Politico noted, Mr Banks and Mr Emmer have hated each other going back to when Mr Emmer beat Mr Banks for whip.

Meanwhile, Rep Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) rebelled on X, formerly known as Twitter, and requested that Rep Mark Green (R-TN), a hardliner and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, throw his hat into the ring.

If the premature death of Mr Emmer’s speaker bid all sounds familiar, it’s because it mirrors the exact same attempts by conservatives to scuttle House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s bid: a handful of conservatives were mad about the process, so they threw a tantrum to put the nominee’s bid on ice before it even came to the floor.

All of this comes back to one fatal mistake Mr Emmer might have made: as the steward of the House GOP campaign arm, he oversaw an election where Republicans severely underperformed. At the beginning of 2022, most political prognosticators (myself included) projected that the GOP would win a majority that would make previous Red Waves look like a ripple.

That didn’t happen. Instead, due to former president Donald Trump backing unelectable candidates, his name being in the headlines and, of course, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v Jackson decision which overturned Roe v Wade, Republicans barely won back the House and only have 221 votes in a body of 435 lawmakers. With two vacancies, Mr Emmer can only afford to lose four votes.

That math means only a handful of Republicans can voice their complaints and completely sink a speaker bid. And sink Mr Emmer they did.

Then, of course, the ultimate humiliation came when Mr Trump weighed in on Truth Social and said he opposed Mr Emmer’s bid, calling him “RINO Tom Emmer, who I do not know well” and saying “Voting for a Globalist RINO like Tom Emmer would be a tragic mistake!”

Of course, Mr Emmer’s cardinal sin was that he voted to certify the 2020 presidential election results, whereas Mr Jordan, Mr Scalise, Mr McCarthy and all but one other candidate for speaker did not.

Now the House GOP is going back to the drawing board. Some of the candidates whom Mr Emmer beat could emerge, or someone else could finally come along. But at this point, running for speaker of the House as a Republican is an exercise in masochism and no self-respecting Republican should want to take the job if they want to have a future in Congress.