The next House majority leader: Trey Gowdy?

Steve Scalise, the current majority whip, wants the job. Apparently so does Tom Price, who’s been endorsed by Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling. But Scalise is tainted from having served with Boehner and McCarthy this year and Price alienated some hawks with his last budget proposal on defense spending.

Enter Trey Gowdy, who’s suddenly being pushed by both Jason Chaffetz and Mia Love. And not reluctantly either per Chaffetz, who says he’s already spoken to Gowdy about the idea.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a Gowdy friend, praised Gowdy on Fox News Channel Tuesday morning: “If you want the best person to make the Republican case, if you want the best person to talk about why conservatism is the right answer for America, Trey Gowdy is out best foot forward.” Meanwhile, Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), a first-term member who identifies with the tea party movement, endorsed Gowdy for majority leader in a statement released Tuesday morning, calling him someone who “is respected across the political spectrum and will help create clarity and focus for Republicans to lead the country into a better, brighter future.”

“He is the kind of smart fighter our country needs and the American people deserve,” Love said in the statement. “With impressive communication skills, genuine compassion and the tenacity of a prosecutor, he will unite the party and the people around a truly American agenda. Trey will stand up and speak out for the conservative principles and conservative policies that will capture the imagination of hardworking Americans and unleash the power of American exceptionalism. Trey will also not shy away from shining a light on the falsehoods and failed policies of the Obama administration.”

Why not Gowdy for Speaker? Because, as noted yesterday, McCarthy seems too well positioned not to get the job. Rather than fight him and risk alienating Boehner’s likely successor before he’s even taken the job, conservatives seem to be playing a long game here: Replace McCarthy with one of their own as majority leader and then, when McCarthy eventually flames out as Speaker after doing no better than Boehner did in uniting the caucus, have him replace McCarthy in the top job.

If you want further evidence that Gowdy’s interested, here’s a tidbit buried deep in Fox News’s story this morning about McCarthy vowing to move away from “governing by crisis,” suggesting he’s no more eager to engage in shutdown brinksmanship with Obama than his predecessor as Speaker is:

Late Monday, Fox News learned of a concerted effort by hawkish House Republicans to defeat House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price’s bid for Majority Leader. The Georgia Republican infuriated his defense-minded colleagues this past spring by slashing money for the Pentagon from the budget blueprint in an effort to get it to balance.

The House ultimately approved Price’s budget, but added a so-called “sidecar” which added billions of dollars in defense spending. Since that money wasn’t part of the budget itself, Price was still able to declare that his budget “balanced,” a statement that both budget and defense hawks viewed as a farce.

Fox News has also learned that Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. would be willing to serve as acting Majority Leader if House Republicans are unable to determine who might succeed McCarthy if he becomes  Speaker. Should the need arise, Gowdy would serve as Majority Leader through the end of the current Congress in January 2017.

It’d be awfully easy for the “acting” majority leader to be elected to the position in 2017 if he did a decent job in his interim role. Or maybe Gowdy’s thinking bigger: Since McCarthy will be under heavy pressure from Republican presidential candidates not to do anything too risky in confronting Obama before the presidential election, he’ll inevitably disappoint conservatives a time or two in the legislative battles to come over the next 18 months. Gowdy, as majority leader, could play the role of the red-meat conservative who’s frustrated with McCarthy’s timidity and is eager to challenge Obama. That would raise his profile nationally among righties and leave him as the obvious guy to challenge McCarthy for Speaker in the 2017 leadership elections. The question is, does he have the votes to challenge Price now? If Hensarling and Ryan are both on board with Price, that’s a lot of political cover for conservatives and center-righties to line up behind him. Things might be different if the Benghazi Committee had succeeded in blowing up Hillary, but it hasn’t. Yet.

Here’s Chaffetz talking up Gowdy on Fox News this morning. Skip to 2:40 for the key bit. Exit question from Sean Trende: Are we sure Boehner’s resignation is a good thing for the party at this particular moment? Make sure you note the third graph at the link before you answer.