Speaker Simpson, revisited

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Idaho’s Second District congressman, Mike Simpson, has to be one of the nation’s few prominent non-Tea Party Republicans not shedding any tears over the stunning upset and defeat of Virginia congressman and Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this week.

Indeed, he has to be smiling like a Chesire cat.

Without having to lift a finger, or stab a colleague in the back, a major hurdle was eliminated in a possible path to the Speakership by the wily yet charming Idahoan. Historically, a party’s majority leader often becomes the Speaker, a powerful post in our system of checks and balances government, and second in line of succession to the Presidency.

Simpson is thought to aspire to the office but early on he must have recognized that it would be difficult to pursue the traditional path wherein an aspirant first runs for either the number three leadership post, that of Party whip, currently held by California congressman Kevin McCarthy, or the number four post, caucus secretary, held by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington state’s Fifth Congressional District (Spokane).

A member of the leadership then bides his or her time until a Speaker retires and in theory everyone moves up a slot. That’s the theory, but of course the reality often leads to some nasty internal fights not always soothed over after the results are known.

Simpson appears to have adopted a different path. A good judge of horse flesh, he indirectly attached his political star to that of Ohio congressman John Boehner, becoming both a friend and a close personal advisor to the future Speaker and a member of the so-called “inner circle.” He carefully avoided running for any of the leadership posts because inevitably one makes a few enemies by becoming an overt rival.

The former Speaker of the Idaho House and former dentist from Blackfoot also instinctively understood that if one is a formal member of a Speaker’s leadership team, then he or she is identified with the bad as well as the good policies and positions that are taken by a Speaker. This can be both a blessing and a curse, but as Eric Cantor found out, it can lead to a muddled middle ground on a divisive issue like immigration reform that ends up alienating both sides.

By staying out of a formal leadership role Simpson can pick and choose carefully which national issues he may want to take a more visible stance on.

Additionally, unlike Cantor, Simpson obviously has stayed well connected to his district and his constituents know he delivers for them and their needs. This was one of the key reasons he was able to clobber his Tea Party challenger, Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith, again, unlike Cantor, who was upset by his primary challenger, an economics professor, David Brat.

The fact that Simpson also stood up and called “b.s.” on the various charges made against him and then took the fight to his challenger by waging an aggressive and indeed costly campaign to retain his seat also has to have raised his profile and star with his colleagues.

Everyone likes a leader who can stand and fight. Simpson did and it surely enhanced his stature.

Now a scramble is underway to select a successor to Cantor by June 19th even though his resignation from the majority leader post isn’t effective until July 31st. Speaker Boehner may officially stay neutral and let the GOP House Caucus decide without his running the risk of making his preference known but suffer possible public humiliation if the one he backs were to lose.

Nonetheless, he is thought to be quietly supporting the Caucus whip, Rep. McCarthy. Standing in the way is Texas Republican congressman Pete Sessions, chairman of the powerful House Rules committee, who is waging an aggressive campaign for Cantor’s old post.

Chief contestants for McCarthy’s post, should he win the mjaority leader job, are McCarthy’s chief deputy whip, Rep. Peter Roskam from Illinois, and Rep. Steve Scalise from Louisiana. Scalise may seek the post regardless. In each case one may see an unseemly split in Republican ranks between the so-called moderates and the Tea Party sympathizers, such as Idaho’s First District congressman, Raul Labrador.

Nowhere will one read Mike Simpson’s name in all of this scrambling and infighting, for by staying out of the fray he stays above the fray. He also becomes the most obvious compromise choice and by the time Speaker Boehner steps down, either at the end of this term or the next term, Idaho’s Mike Simpson may well be an even money bet to succeed Boehner.

No wonder he is smiling like the Cheshire cat.

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