Conservatives don't have the votes

It is nothing less than astounding that House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) collected enough votes overnight to replace Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.) as majority leader, following Cantor's shocking loss to his primary opponent Tuesday. Certainly not because McCarthy hadn't earned that foundation of support from the conference already but that the loud and proud voices of angry conservatives once again added up to, well, too few votes. The problem plaguing the most conservative wing of the Republican Party — call it the Tea Party of whatever — has always been the lack of votes. Defunding ObamaCare, ousting Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), beating McCarthy — it's always the same: not enough votes.

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Uprisings come and go, and Dave Brat's ability to wipe out a majority leader with only 5 percent of the votes from Virginia's 7th District is as stunning and historic as upsets can be, but until this fervent movement wins enough elections, a movement is what it will remain. Despite the GOP establishment's intense — and successful — pushback in primary elections this year, conservatives rejoiced after Brat's win Tuesday, issuing threats to topple the blue and swing-state leaders who have controlled the conference now for years. Leaders from Ohio, Virginia and California — what do they know about the country? But Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) took a pass, then after declaring himself a candidate, Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) took a pass and a new push by Rep. Raul Labrador (Idaho) will surely go the way the other challenges did. McCarthy has the votes already. Why? Because so many Tea Party-backed conservatives support him. There aren't enough of them to land a blow — period.

While Republicans everywhere battle over this poll or that showing that immigration did or did not end Cantor's congressional career, Labrador — a reform proponent who has worked with Democrats to get it passed this session — has declared reform dead. All that matters is that conservatives are blaming "amnesty" for the loss, even if it isn't the culprit. It is a powerful weapon that will be used again and again to scare Republicans away from reform, furthering fueling the Tea Party and the conservative grass roots but keeping the party as a whole from winning the White House again. Why? Without reform there won't be enough votes.

HOW DID HILLARY'S ROLLOUT GO? AskAB returns Monday, June 16. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.

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