As the Republican Study Committee decides on its next chairman, Tuesday's contest between Bill Flores of Texas, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Louie Gohmert of Texas will likely set the tone for House conservatives for years to come as RSC membership swells to record numbers.
The RSC's placeholder chairman, Rob Woodall of Georgia, has roughly 170 members in the groups ranks, and sources believe membership in the 114th Congress could exceed 180 — almost three-quarters of the entire GOP conference.
Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was chosen at the start of this Congress to lead the RSC over Tom Graves of Georgia, used the post as a springboard to becoming majority whip. His tenure perhaps set a more leadership-friendly tone.
There’s a similar dynamic at play as members prepare to vote behind the closed doors of the Cannon Caucus Room, as sources see it as a Flores-Mulvaney race. Both men say their whip counts suggest they will win, but declined to give numbers.
Mulvaney is presenting himself as the more conservative choice, while Flores has tried to sell himself as the option best suited to working with the rest of the conference.
Flores, chairman of the House Conservatives Fund, told CQ Roll Call Monday that his vision for being RSC chairman would be to "work with everybody" and “not to create conflict” in the conference. “There are some others in this race that don’t share that vision,” he said.
He thinks Mulvaney and Gohmert would naturally operate in a more “combative manner," and said, “I don’t think it does any good to stand up and beat your chest and say you’re only going to go with the most conservative vision.”
His political action committee has supported more than 70 conservative candidates and doled out more than $700,000 to help Republicans win.
Mulvaney told CQ Roll Call he believes the RSC chairman is not supposed to be a “shill for leadership.”
“I recognize that Bill’s trying to lay that out,” Mulvaney said. “If Bill is more leadership-friendly, I’m more RSC-friendly, how 'bout that?”
Mulvaney said he understood the natural “juxtaposition” between Flores’ candidacy of being more friendly across the conference and his own candidacy of more aggressively pushing the GOP conference to a conservative vision.
His pitch is that the RSC be more involved in driving debate, driving the issues and setting the agenda, saying the final products of the farm bill and this summer’s border security supplemental are “wonderful” examples of how things can, and should, work when conservatives have a seat at the table.
Flores' pitch: limiting federal government, pressing for fiscal responsibility and providing for a strong national defense. But he also was realistic about what the RSC could accomplish with a new Senate majority and President Barack Obama in the White House, admitting, "We won’t get everything.”
Gohmert told CQ Roll Call in a statement it is his “fervent desire to see the steadfast group of leaders in the RSC take a stand like never before; and, I know that I am the right person to judiciously lead that ardent charge.”
Flores said he has 30 whips for the race lobbying members on his behalf, and he personally has called almost every voting member. Mulvaney is considered the front-runner among the 153 RSC members voting Tuesday — freshmen and outgoing members do not vote.
Heritage Action scorecards offer a glimpse of their records: Mulvaney has sided with the conservative group 86 percent of the time this Congress, compared with Flores’ 71 percent. Gohmert has a 91 percent score.
One concern the next leader will be forced to consider is how large the RSC can and should grow. Many conservatives believe the group is just too big to advocate for a truly conservative agenda. It was one of the reasons some conservatives created the even more rightward Liberty Caucus.
Mulvaney said he would hate to see the RSC just become a mini-extension of the overall GOP conference, and he said he didn’t know at what point the RSC would become too big. “I don’t think anyone knows that answer to that question, “ he said. “It’s certainly something we discuss regularly."
Flores told CQ Roll Call he thought the RSC was still at “a good size,” adding, “If it’s properly led.”
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