Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's decision to drop out of the race for House speaker has left Republicans with an unexpected leadership void, one that was created partly by candidates who worry the job will prevent them from ever seeing their families again, and partly by fears that nobody can succeed in the job anymore given today's political realities.
"It's a thankless task," Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, a 16-term lawmaker who has served under seven House speakers, told the Washington Examiner. "I have spoken to a significant number of potential candidates who will not even consider running because of the strain it would put on their families."
Once the most coveted position in Congress, the role of speaker is now viewed by many lawmakers as an impossible job, thanks to a deeply divided Republican conference that has become increasingly incompatible since 2010, when dozens of conservative lawmakers backed by the Tea Party were first elected to the House. The GOP's most conservative faction helped drive out Speaker John Boehner, who has held the gavel since 2010 and announced he plans to leave as soon as a successor is elected.
Boehner's decision to quit followed years of taunting by conservative groups who hit a nerve with the speaker by criticizing his every move and questioning his conservative credentials. Popular right-leaning radio show hosts regularly called for Boehner's ouster.
"He talks like a liberal!" talk show host Mark Levin shouted in one broadcast, after listening to Boehner complain in a Golf Channel interview about conservative talk radio. "You gutless wonder, why don't you step down if it's all too much for you!"