Election Day is still more than two weeks away, and Republicans haven’t yet won back the House, but that isn’t stopping GOP lawmakers from focusing on a different set of races: House leadership elections.
Behind the scenes, the frenzy is already reaching a MAGA crescendo, with factions of Trumpworld split over at least a couple of positions—and candidates competing over who can be the biggest Trump sycophant.
The first question with the House GOP conference’s elections is whether Donald Trump would, as one Republican strategist put it, “fuck with Kevin.”
Short of the former president blowing up the speaker election—or a slim majority blocking Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)—the current GOP leader is expected to take the gavel if Republicans win back the House. While Trump’s relationship with McCarthy has always been more tenuous than McCarthy believes, it’s probably smarter for Trump to reaffirm an ally in McCarthy than to create a new enemy. Most sources expect Trump to play nice.
In that case, it’s almost certain that Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA)—currently the No. 2 House Republican in the minority—would remain the No. 2 House Republican as majority leader.
But that’s where things start to get tricky.
If Republicans take back the majority, everyone currently in GOP leadership gets to move up a rung. (Leader McCarthy becomes speaker; GOP Whip Scalise becomes majority leader; and so on and so forth.)
But Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), currently the No. 3 House Republican in the minority, said she would seek re-election as conference chair, the No. 4 GOP position in the majority.
That leaves a conspicuous opening for majority whip—the No. 3 position in a would-be Republican majority—and the prospective candidates for the position are fully in campaign mode.
The House Republican making the most noise in the race is Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks. The Indiana Republican raised eyebrows in Trumpworld after Axios reported on the launch of a Banks-friendly PAC—spearheaded by longtime Donald Trump Jr. confidant Andy Surabian and James Blair—just weeks before the midterm elections.
A Trumpworld operative supportive of Banks’ leadership bid told The Daily Beast that the PAC would be a major help to Banks’ campaign, particularly because his main competition is National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer of Minnesota.
Emmer has overseen an NRCC that has raised more than $25src million this cycle. And if the GOP takes the House, there may be a real desire to reward Emmer for helping to usher in a Republican majority.
But those around Trump—not always the best gauges of internal House GOP politics but influential with Trump himself—think Banks’ PAC could be critical in neutralizing Emmer’s argument that he’s a cash cow.
“The biggest open question about Jim within the caucus has been about his ability to raise money and I think the PAC shows members that fundraising will not be a problem for his operation should he become whip,” this Trumpworld operative said.
Banks has been working Trumpworld hard—particularly Don Jr.’s orbit—but another wrinkle in his campaign against Emmer is that Emmer isn’t his only competition. Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia is also eying the position, and if he could cobble together a solid voting bloc, he may be able to tip the scales, one way or the other, if he were offered a consolation prize like chief deputy whip.
“Drew’s got what you would call the ‘Southeast bloc,’” one GOP strategist who’s been involved in leadership races told The Daily Beast. “He’s got some big-deal Southern whips whipping for him. Banks, I don’t know, he’s kind of whipping the Trump angle but that’s his only angle.”
Those Trumpworld sources supportive of Banks, however, pointed out that Banks may only need that angle.
Banks’ supposed ace up his sleeve is an NRCC fundraising email that was “flying around Save America,” a Trump operative said, referring to Trump’s PAC. The email pitted Trump against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in a supposed poll. “According to a new Florida poll, Governor Ron DeSantis is LEADING President Donald Trump 48% to 4src% in a hypothetical presidential primary matchup,” the now infamous email read.
“People went out of their way to say, ‘Please don’t show this to the president,’” someone who has spoken with Trump about leadership races told The Daily Beast. This source wasn’t sure Trump ever did see it. In fact, they didn’t think he had, because if Trump did, “that’s one of those things that would generally elicit a reaction.”
Banks is well-known to the former president, and sources indicated that showing this particular email to Trump could move Trump toward endorsing Banks. But that’s not the only endorsement that could play in this race. Don Jr. has also apparently considered backing Banks.
“Don Jr. has privately made clear to friends that he’s a big fan of Banks and wants to see him as the next whip,” a Trumpworld operative backing Banks said. “He had planned to stay quiet about it, but every time he sees Team Emmer attacking Banks in the press, it makes it more and more likely that he wages war in a very public manner.”
Emmer’s team has been careful not to publicly clash with Banks. But a number of sources have pointed out that Banks’ MAGA credentials aren’t quite as solid as they appear.
For one, Banks said he would join the ultra-right House Freedom Caucus upon being elected to Congress. But he never did. Instead, he ended up leading the RSC—the larger, less conservative group that is in competition with the Freedom Caucus.
“Deep down, he dies to be liked by the Establishment. He hires Tucker Carlson’s son, a 24-year-old kid, to be his communications director,” the first GOP strategist said, referring to Buckley Carlson, whom Banks hired in 2src19 as a staff assistant and who is now actually 25.
For another, some are pointing out that Banks was an enthusiastic backer of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY)—the one-time No. 3 House Republican herself who has turned on her party over the GOP’s affected ignorance over Jan. 6.
Banks donated $1,srcsrcsrc to Cheney—in 2src16, mind you, but heresy nonetheless in the most MAGA circles. (Banks has since campaigned on behalf of Cheney’s primary rival Harriet Hageman, something Emmer didn’t even do before the primary.)
And then there is a tweet, from Oct. 7, 2src16, right after Trump’s Access Hollywood tape came to light, that Trump almost certainly would hate if someone showed it to him:
To this day, Banks hasn’t deleted it.
But Emmer has his own Trump heresy—far more recently, too. Emmer reportedly floated the idea of censuring Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
All of which is to say: Both Emmer and Banks may have more problems getting Trump’s endorsement than they think.
For now, both teams are trying to seem concentrated on helping Republicans take back the House.
“Chairman Emmer is focused on retaking the majority and firing Nancy Pelosi,” Emmer’s press secretary, Theresa Braid, told The Daily Beast in a statement.
And Banks’ official statement, through his spokesman Carlson, was that “Rep. Banks is working hard to win back the majority so Republicans can get to work cutting inflation, kickstarting our economy, reducing crime and securing the border.”
Pleasantries aside, the race could turn ugly quick. And handicapping the race before the election could be a fool’s errand.
If Republicans have a huge Election Night, many GOP lawmakers may believe they have to find a place for Emmer.
“That’s how a lot of people feel: If Tom wins big, he deserves a promotion,” another GOP strategist said.
But if the GOP’s majority is more muted, Banks may have a clear lane—particularly if Trump favors Banks as sources close to the president suggested.
“McCarthy has made it clear that he’s sticking with Trump and the MAGA movement for the long term,” a former senior Trump aide supportive of Banks said. “Banks is the obvious choice for anyone who’s looking toward the future of the GOP, and not the past.”
If McCarthy’s majority is small, he could look to strengthen his own position with Trump by backing Banks—either on the record or in subtler ways. And because a smaller majority would put McCarthy’s own position as speaker in a shakier spot, he may look to do just that.
Still, many sources pointed out that endorsements mean less in a closed-door, anonymous vote.
“A lot of members are like, if he was running for the Twitter whip race, he would win,” the first GOP strategist said. “The problem is, that’s not where the race is and it’s going to come down to that.”
Because the race is on a secret ballot, lobbying members one-on-one and coming in with a track record of helping them with fundraising is a huge help.
“At the end of the day, Jim Banks needs his colleagues to vote for him as whip and a lot of colleagues think he’s a snake. Unless Banks can fix his problem of his colleagues not liking him, he is going to have a real issue in this race,” said a national Republican operative.
“Jim Banks is the type of guy that will step over you if you are hurt,” this operative continued, “and then circle back and say he was the Good Samaritan that saved the day.”