If not Speaker Kevin McCarthy, then who?
That was the question hanging over the Capitol on Tuesday, as it became clear that Democrats were not going to help Mr. McCarthy survive the vote to oust him.
That there isn’t an obvious answer to the question was part of Mr. McCarthy’s ability to win the bruising battle for the job in the first place — he never let a serious alternative emerge.
Nine months later, there still isn’t a clear candidate in waiting.
“I think there’s plenty of people who can step up and do the job,” Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee, one of the rebels bent on pushing Mr. McCarthy out, said Tuesday morning, but he said he did not know who he had in mind for the job instead.
Representative Eli Crane of Arizona, another one of the hard-line holdouts against Mr. McCarthy, said he wasn’t there yet in terms of supporting someone else.
“I don’t like to get the cart before the horse,” he said. “For me, right now, this is just about representing my voters and holding the speaker accountable for deals made and deals broken.”
Some names were starting to be bandied about, even as all of the potential successors vowed that they were not looking to replace Mr. McCarthy, whom they said they still supported.
Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, on Monday night said he was open to supporting Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the current No. 2 House Republican and a longtime McCarthy rival who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for blood cancer.
“I am not going to pass over Steve Scalise just because he has blood cancer,” Mr. Gaetz told a horde of reporters as he left the Capitol on Monday night.
Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the No. 3 Republican in the House who serves as the majority whip, has also been mentioned by some of his colleagues as a viable option. Mr. Emmer, who has hosted many late night sessions in his office with various factions of the Republican conference, trying to help the group find common ground, has gained the trust of the far-right members. But they don’t view him as a particularly strong leader.
“He’s a good sounding board. He’s got some nice conference rooms. He doesn’t lie to us,” Mr. Gaetz said of Mr. Emmer in an earlier interview. “We know he can’t make anything happen.”
Another logical person to turn to would be Representative Patrick McHenry, the longtime North Carolina congressman who is close with Mr. McCarthy and has previously served in leadership. But Mr. McHenry would most likely resist any attempt to draft him into the role. He chose not to run for a leadership role last year, opting instead to lead the powerful financial services committee.
In a scramble, Representative Elise Stefanik, the top woman in leadership whose role means she works closely with all members of the conference, could emerge as another potential alternative. Serving as conference chair and overseeing messaging for all House Republicans, she is widely seen as someone with big political ambitions outside of the House — like potentially serving in a future Trump administration.
Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, one of the longest serving Republicans in the House who leads the Rules Committee, is also respected by both Republicans and Democrats alike.