There’s an irony in Jason Chaffetz’s challenge of Kevin McCarthy, who is seen as the overwhelming favorite in the race to become the next Speaker of the House.
Chaffetz’s insurgent campaign wouldn’t be possible if McCarthy hadn’t spent the last few election cycles championing younger, telegenic legislators such as Chaffetz. Under previous leaders, Chaffetz and others might have had to spend more time paying their dues. In January, Chaffetz took over the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where he’s led investigations into the Secret Service and has benefited from the publicity that comes with his position.
“He’s very refreshing,” McCarthy told TIME in January in an interview about Chaffetz’s new chairmanship. “I would call him the new style of Republican chairman in the House. He’s going to break all the old molds.”
McCarthy cited, in particular, Chaffetz’s media savvy. He said that he would ordinarily tell congressional freshmen not to appear on The Colbert Report and risk embarrassment. But Chaffetz, McCarthy said, was the only one who could make the appearance and look better for it—he’s tenacious without being negative.
Chaffetz will now try to leverage those assets against the leader—and longtime friend, McCarthy said—who spotted them and championed him. And although McCarthy hasn’t yet commented on Chaffetz’s campaign, perhaps some part of him, in the deepest recesses of his mind, might have envisioned a power struggle someday.
“When he [first ran for Congress], he defeated a Republican,” McCarthy said in January. “He’s not afraid to take on his own party if need be.”
And that’s just what’s happening now. On Sunday Kevin McCarthy watched as the putative challenge to his bid to succeed outgoing House speaker John Boehner turned real. In explaining why he is seeking the speakership, the Utah Republican said that McCarthy simply does not have enough support among the House’s 246 Republicans to get the 218 votes necessary for election. That math will become apparent on Oct. 29 with a vote for new House leadership, outgoing Speaker John Boehner said Monday.
Chaffetz said that he would bridge the party’s centrist and far-right factions, whereas McCarthy’s leadership would represent more of the same. Chaffetz also said that between the two, he is the superior public speaker.
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