Who will be the next Michele Bachmann? The Minnesota Republican's announcement on Wednesday that she’ll be stepping down when her term wraps up in 2014 leaves a void at the top of the Tea Party Caucus she founded in 2010 — and a handful of conservatives could vie to take up her mantle.
From the time Bachmann founded the caucus, the movement has had its ebbs and flows, at its high point having significant influence over the electoral landscape and at its low point becoming dormant to the point — some might argue — of irrelevance.
But with revelations that the IRS improperly targeted conservative-affiliated groups seeking to register as tax-exempt nonprofits, the tea party movement both on Capitol Hill and around the country was reignited, and many supporters believe political candidates will ride that wave through the next election cycle as they did in 2010.
If that turns out to be true, there are a handful of House Republicans who could want to take Bachmann’s place at the helm of the Tea Party Caucus. We at Goppers walk you through, in no particular order, a list of four sitting lawmakers who might be angling for it, and who might be good at it, acknowledging that it's still early to start handicapping.
1. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina was elected in 2010 as a tea party candidate and earlier this year actually sought to relaunch the Tea Party Caucus on his own because he thought Bachmann had all but abandoned the cause — she did somewhat shirk in her leadership duties in 2012, between running for president and then fighting to keep her House seat in a close election. Once he found out that she was still engaged with the cause and pledged to renew her commitment to it, however, Mulvaney stepped aside to let Bachmann continue as chairwoman and insisted there was no intention of usurpation. Once Bachmann steps down, Mulvaney could proceed as he’d originally planned without stepping on any toes.
2. Louie Gohmert of Texas, a tea party member, is one of the House’s most vocal Republicans. He’s a familiar face at news conferences for conservative causes and on the chamber floor, where on a semi-regular basis he appears to deliver lengthy treatises on issues of the day during Special Orders. Gohmert loves to talk, enjoys the media spotlight and is unapologetic about views that are often so far to the right of the political spectrum that he becomes a Bachmann-esque lightning rod for the left.
3. Steve King of Iowa never misses a Tea Party Caucus media event. He has been making national news recently for fiery denouncements of the Senate’s immigration overhaul legislation and promises to stonewall any House proposal that is in any way similar. He’s become the de facto leader of a fringe group of House Republicans who share his stances on the immigration debate, and what becomes of this grass-roots movement could foreshadow King’s ability to lead his colleagues on a larger scale.
4. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas could seek to lead the Tea Party Caucus in the mold of an outlier. Since his ultraconservative stances on fiscal policy got him kicked off the House Budget Committee, he has not been shy about voicing his dissatisfaction with GOP leadership, participating in a campaign to oust John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, from the speaker’s seat at the start of the 113th Congress. Huelskamp appears to relish being a thorn in the sides of party leaders, which could be a good fit for the leader of a movement that prides itself on diverging from the Republican mainstream.