Kevin McCarthy's decision to step aside in the race for the speakership was an absolute bombshell. Though his announcement was surprising, McCarthy's predicament was obvious: While he almost certainly had a majority of Republican votes for yesterday's (now postponed) vote, he couldn't count on garnering the required 218 votes for the actual speaker election.
The announcement exploded so loudly Thursday that John Boehner's attempt to calm the masses has barely been heard. As Roll Call reported:
"As I have said previously, I will serve as Speaker until the House votes to elect a new Speaker," Boehner said in a written statement early Thursday afternoon. " We will announce the date for this election at a later date, and I'm confident we will elect a new Speaker in the coming weeks."
I'll admit, I hadn't noticed earlier that Boehner's resignation was conditional on the choice of a replacement. This is further evidence of Boehner's strengths as a leader, as I wrote about before.
More generally, though, it's an even better version of my own strategy for how Boehner could retain the speakership, which involved having the House vote to replace him only after the replacement candidate had secured 218 votes. I'm not saying that Boehner stole my idea and put a classy Keyser Soze spin on it, but I'm not saying he didn't, either.
I don't know if Boehner's trying to remain speaker or not, but the magical part of his position right now is that regardless of anything his colleagues may think about him, he has one thing that nobody else has: John Boehner doesn't need to be elected speaker of the House.
How this will evolve over the next couple of days is uncertain, but I will predict that if a consensus candidate does not emerge by Monday, John Boehner will still be speaker in January 2017. Given that Paul Ryan seems intent on not being speaker (arguably because he's a smart politician with higher ambitions), this will be an interesting weekend.
Finally, I think it is interesting to note that Paul Ryan was to nominate McCarthy for the speakership. Boehner basically endorsed McCarthy for the speakership in his "resignation" speech. Ryan said early on that he didn't want the job. In spite of protesting that he was surprised today, three's a crowd when it comes to the House leadership. I find it very hard to believe that the whole dynamic starting with Boehner's resignation has been as unforeseen to them as it has been to the rest of us.
In any event, it may turn out that the most powerful stunt John Boehner ever pulled was convincing his caucus he was giving up his power.