House Republicans have been extremely careful to avoid even the appearance that they are measuring the draperies to move into the majority leadership suites at the Capitol after Tuesday's election.
But they wouldn't be prudent if they weren't doing at least some planning for a GOP majority. At least to the point of figuring out who might wield the top leadership positions if they need to present a unified front Wednesday morning.
If in fact, history smiles on them.
Leadership elections are the quantum physics of politics. They are molecular in nature, where leaders often forge their clout at the subatomic political level. Tiny movements of political protons, neurons and electrons often determine who's in and who's out of the Congressional leadership.
You've heard of partisan politics. Leadership races are "particle politics." And if the GOP wins the House, this is a subatomic peek into what's whizzing around the House Republican particle accelerator.
For starters, the top levels of the GOP leadership team appear settled. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) would prospectively ascend to the speakership. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) would become Majority Leader. And Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is poised to take the Majority Whip job. That last decision may come as a surprise to some. But there are subatomic reasons for that.
It was pretty much a given that Boehner and Cantor would claim the top jobs, even if there was periodic chatter that if Republicans seized the majority, Cantor might challenge Boehner. But Cantor put that conjecture to rest months ago by emphatically declaring he supported Boehner for speaker.
The unclear part of the equation was who might fill the role of whip. The odds centered on McCarthy, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) this cycle, and perhaps Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), Chairman of the House Republican Conference.
But over the past few days, multiple sources signal that Boehner has blessed McCarthy for the gig, bypassing Sessions despite his success at the NRCC's helm. That potentially ducks a leadership fight between two heavy hitters in the GOP hierarchy. Both McCarthy and Sessions would deserve lots of credit if they shepherd Republicans into the majority this fall. Sessions raised millions of dollars and executed a battle plan on a massive playing field. McCarthy teamed with Cantor and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to form the "Young Guns," the squad of three young figures poised to usher in a new era of conservatism in the House. McCarthy headed candidate recruitment for this cycle.
McCarthy is relatively new to Capitol Hill. He only won election to the House in 2006 after former-Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) retired. But he's hardly a political neophyte. McCarthy served two terms in the California legislature, worked with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and also served as Thomas's district director. Many view McCarthy as one of the top political strategists in the GOP today.
Boehner and others have consistently tapped McCarthy for key assignments since his arrival in Washington. In 2008, Boehner charged McCarthy with running the platform committee at the Republican convention in St. Paul, MN. The GOP promoted McCarthy to Chief Deputy Whip (Cantor's old job) at the start of this Congress.
So would McCarthy's ascension undercut Pence? After all, Pence holds the number three slot in the Republican minority. In other words, if Boehner and Cantor secured the top two slots, it might appear as though Pence would be a lock for the whip, the number three position.
But let's explore this at the subatomic level.
Pence's future in the House is cloudy at best. Earlier this year, Pence decided not to seek the seat now held by retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN). Pence has long mulled a potential presidential bid. And he won the Values Voters' straw poll for president a few weeks ago.
Pence has also embarked on a statewide tour of Indiana to help boost Republican turnout and potentially test the waters for governor.
Regardless, GOP sources confide that Pence seems like the odd man out for one of the "hat trick" leadership posts. If he decides to run for president, Pence might also have to compete with fellow Hoosier and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). And if he decided to remain in the House, Pence could always go back to his spot leading the House Republican Conference. But that would drop to the number four position in seniority if the GOP wins the House.
Still, Pence is a darling of many of the conservatives Republicans expect to elect to the House Tuesday. His skills at navigating the tea party waters from his helm of the House Republican Conference could be an asset to the GOP leadership team. But sources tell FOX that Pence is eyeing his other options and doesn't want to commit to a House position unless he intends to stay on Capitol Hill for the full two years.
Sources indicate that Pence hasn't fully made up his mind yet. But he'll have to make decisions soon.
So who chairs the conference if Pence isn't around? Sessions? No. The Capitol Hill chatter is that Sessions stays at the NRCC and becomes the "Chris Van Hollen" of the GOP. For this Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) asked Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to again pilot the NRCC's counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Pelosi also bestowed Van Hollen with the title of "Special Assistant to the Speaker," meaning the Maryland Democrat had a role in all top leadership meetings and decisions. Sources tell FOX to expect a similar role for Sessions if Republicans score the majority.
So who leads the Republican Conference?
GOP sources are wagering their money on Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). Hensarling first came to Congress in 2003. He served as an aide to former-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) and ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the national organization devoted to electing GOPers to the Senate. For this Congress, Hensarling also guided the Republican Study Committee, the most-conservative bloc of Republicans in the House.
The incoming GOP freshman class would also probably embrace Hensarling's rock-ribbed conservatism. Hensarling's office didn't respond to a request for a comment for this article. But a GOP source described Hensarling's conservative credentials as "impeccable" and noted he has "the gravitas on budget and fiscal issues to ably aid GOP leadership as they try to put Americans back to work."
But the Republican Conference chairmanship question is far from answered.
Note that all of the figures mentioned above are white males. Republicans are always aiming to diversify their party. And especially the face of the party. That's one of the reasons (but certainly not the only reason) why the GOP promoted former-Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH) to Republican Conference Chair in 2004. House Republicans also elected former-Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) to lead the GOP Conference in 1998 (defeating then-chairman John Boehner). Watts became the only African American Republican in history to hold a leadership position.
So the GOP desperately wants to avoid the "white male" syndrome.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) served as Vice Chair of the GOP Conference for this Congress. She's due with her second child around Christmas and Republican sources aren't certain about her plans.
But Republicans do have a few other options among female lawmakers.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is conservative with extensive media experience. Blackburn would certainly be interested in a promotion. Another possibility is Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX). In 2006, Granger did a stint as GOP Conference Vice Chair.
But perhaps the most-intriguing possibility is Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Over the summer, Bachmann founded the Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill and is a darling of the conservative movement. She's telegenic, energetic and could have wide support (especially among freshmen) if she decided to seek the post. Plus, many of the tea party-backed members coming to Congress would then have a bona fide representative in the formal leadership structure.
However, by the same token, some in the core of the GOP fret that Bachmann could be a "loose cannon" if she were elected to the inner-circle. A conservative flame-thrower, Bachmann is known for tossing red meat to the base and simultaneously making the party brass wince.
During a 2008 MSNBC interview, Bachmann said that then-President-elect Obama had "anti-American views" and suggested the media do an "expose" on the topic. She also expressed her concerns about the census being too intrusive. She initially said she wouldn't complete her census form. In the end, Bachmann voted for a resolution raising awareness about the census. The Congresswoman also raised eyebrows last week when she said during a debate she wouldn't necessarily vote for John Boehner as Speaker of the House, unless he was the only candidate running."I would look at all the candidates and weigh it accordingly," Bachmann said during a debate on Minnesota Public Radio.
But at least one influential Capitol Hill Republican suggested that installing Bachmann as conference chairwoman would be a way to "park" the Minnesota Congresswoman.
"Giving (Bachmann) a formal position would chew up a lot of her time," said the Republican who asked not to be identified. The source also said choosing Bachmann for leadership would help solve other issues, too. Her selection would play to the conservative base, move a woman into leadership and "neutralize" what some GOPers view as a threat to them. But some Republicans worry that giving Bachmann an official platform could create more headaches for the GOP leadership team and give Democrats plenty of ammo to return fire with.
Last, Republicans have to decide what to do about Kevin McCarthy's current gig as Chief Deputy Whip.
The Chief Deputy Whip position is often reserved for junior, up-and-coming lawmakers. That's why Cantor, McCarthy and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) did stints in that post. Republican sources are betting on second-term Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL).
These are the particle politics Republicans must sort out in the coming weeks if the polls are accurate and the GOP seizes the majority. And there's another hurdle to clear, too. Win or lose, the Republican Conference is expected to hold its closed-door leadership elections in mid-November, perhaps the 17th or 18th. Incidentally, Boehner's 61st birthday is November 17. They will likely nominate Boehner for Speaker and then vote on the slate of other positions.
If Republicans win the House, Boehner will be considered "Speaker-designate" until the GOP's leadership elections. He then would then graduate to "Speaker-elect" if the GOP embraces him (presumably by acclimation) during their meeting. Boehner would then have to run for Speaker against whomever the Democrats nominate during a vote of the entire House when the new Congress convenes in January.
Only then could Boehner officially become Speaker of the House.
Regardless, it ain't over ‘til it's over. But Republicans have conducted some very discreet drapery measurements from behind the scenes for a while.
And Wednesday morning is when Republicans will know if they can really put their stockpiles of paint color chips and fabric remnants to use.