Kevin McCarthy to lobbyists, Chamber of Commerce: Don't worry, it'll be business as usual in the House

So claims Bill Kristol, citing sources on the Hill.

Second look at Eric Cantor as a write-in candidate this fall?

The reaction [to Cantor’s loss] in our nation’s capital, 90 miles away? Pretend it didn’t happen. Or if you had to acknowledge it happened, pretend it was of no significance. Or if you had to acknowledge it was of some significance, pretend it was merely a product of unique and local circumstances. Above all: Don’t draw any meaningful conclusions from what happened. And truly above all: Don’t change your behavior in any important way.

So the night after Eric Cantor’s defeat, the House Republican whip, the amiable Kevin McCarthy—the apparent frontrunner to succeed Cantor as leader because intelligent conservatives don’t want to compete for the privilege of serving as No. 2 to the amiable speaker, John Boehner—was telling a group of lobbyists pulled together by the Chamber of Commerce in a private room in a D.C. steakhouse: Don’t worry, nothing much will change, it will be business as usual in the House of Representatives.

But change was in the air. McCarthy spoke at the Capital Grille. Team Cantor had run up a campaign tab of $168,637—more than the total campaign spending of his challenger Dave Brat—at competing steakhouses Bobby Van’s and BLT Steak, a mile away. Who says politicians aren’t responsive to voters?

Translation: Amnesty’s still on the agenda, sooner or later. Raul Labrador’s decided to bite the bullet and jump into the race for majority leader as a conservative alternative to McCarthy, but like I said yesterday, I think that’s token opposition. It’s gratifying that the race won’t be a walkover and it’s smart of Labrador to seize an easy opportunity to build a reputation as a fighter among tea partiers (he’s already on the outs with Boehner so he has little to lose inside the House), but he’s going to get crushed. Having him on the ballot is useful mainly as an outlet for a few dozen House conservatives to register their dissent when the caucus chooses McCarthy, whose ACU and Heritage ratings are worse than Cantor’s.

Gabe Major asked a fair question this morning, though. Why should we expect the rest of the caucus to shift gears just because Cantor lost? It’s a shocking result, but it’s one race. The rest of them won their primaries, didn’t they?

True, but Cantor was no ordinary Republican and the reason he lost was no ordinary reason. I don’t mean immigration, either. The one common thread I’ve seen in every postmortem of the race, left or right, is that Brat succeeded brilliantly in framing Cantor as a creature of Washington’s cronyist K Street/Wall Street culture. Amnesty, a wishlist item for McCarthy’s friends in the Chamber of Commerce, is just one part of that larger problem. Seeing the House majority leader get crushed by an anti-cronyist message pushed by a no-name who spent next to nothing on the race has, I think, turned the outcome retroactively into a referendum on this question: Are congressional Republicans (not to mention congressional Democrats) too servile towards wealthy special interests? The answer: Of course they are. Of course they are. Of course they are, and everyone understands it. That perception is what should have made the caucus think twice about nominating Cantor’s right-hand man to succeed him. The backbenchers might have won their primaries (the inertia of incumbency is tremendous) but the perception that something’s deeply wrong with the Republican status quo remains. I thought the make-up of the new leadership would acknowledge that somehow. Nope.

Exit question via Phil Klein: If the establishment’s big problem is convincing House conservatives to go along on tough bills, why on earth would they want a guy like McCarthy who’s distrusted by grassroots righties to be their new salesman? Ideally they’d want someone who’s respected, however grudgingly, by the right but who plays well with the center to be the new leader. Which makes me wonder what have happened had Paul Ryan expressed interest in the job.