GOP grapples with Rep. Cantor loss

It was one of those rare days in the halls of Congress on Wednesday where we were able to watch lawmakers scramble to deal with an internal political battle that no one expected, as Republicans grappled with the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and quickly tried to figure out its impact on the GOP leadership.

Let's pull back the curtain a little on what was going on.

1. The GOP body wasn't even cold

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) had barely lost his primary on Tuesday night when GOP lawmakers started working the phones, gauging support for possible leadership bids to replace Cantor - or others - in the leadership. "I told him to at least wait for the embalming fluids," one lawmaker said of a top Republican who wasted no time in making calls to other members. It was a reminder that one hour you are the number two Republican in the House, and the next day you are being urged to resign your post.  Cantor's shocking defeat was also a red flag for all members in both parties that they could be next.  Instead of 'on any given Sunday,' it's 'on any given Tuesday' in the world of Congress.

2. Déjà vu all over again

For some Republicans, Cantor's loss reminded them of what they had just done two years ago - defeat a GOP incumbent in a primary - which drove home the victory of David Brat in Virginia even more. "I know he ran on the same thing I did," Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) told me. "Washington is broken; the American people are speaking up about that." Some Republicans said they expect other incumbents could be knocked off in coming months, as 23 states still have primaries. So far, 44 House members won't be back in January of 2015, and that could still grow before the November elections.  Many think Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) will be next on June 24 in his runoff for the GOP nomination for Senate in Mississippi.

3. Student Council Elections in Congress

Leadership elections in the Congress are a weird thing; lawmakers are well known for lying to each other, promising to support several people for the same job - but of course only voting for one of those candidates. "If they look you in the eye and tell you they won't vote for you, then you should believe them," said a smiling Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA). Republicans will vote next week on a replacement for Cantor as Majority Leader; right now, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), currently the Majority Whip would seem to have the edge over Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX). But there's a week to go.  "I made it clear I'm not going to make any committments to anyone for at least a week," said Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL).

4. One opening could create another, and another

The wild card about the election to replace Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) as Majority Leader is that it could conceivably open other spots on the GOP leadership ladder. If the Whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) wins that slot, will there be another election then for his job? What if others move up in the same way, will their posts open up as well? For example, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) are already angling for McCarthy's job; others are on the sidelines keeping quiet, like Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) - he might simply be biding his time for another post, that of Budget Committee Chairman.  "There are lots of names getting mentioned for lots of job responsibilities, but there's only one job open right now," said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA).

5. What about Speaker Boehner's future?

Maybe the biggest elephant in the GOP room is the future of Speaker John Boehner; a number of Republicans wanted to challenge him after the November elections anyway, and Cantor's demise raised questions about whether that internal challenge might happen sooner. For now though, those who previously conspired to oust Boehner are saying that fight can wait. "I mean that's an election that's going to be down the road; we'll see what happens when that time comes," said Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) as he left a GOP meeting with Cantor on Wednesday. Others urged their colleagues to leave Boehner in his post.  "I think it's more important than ever now that he stay around," said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), a strong Boehner supporter.