1) Marlboro Orange. John Boehner stays on as speaker, simply because he's already got the job—even though he doesn't want it. But this doesn't actually solve anything, because Boehner was already facing an attempt by conservative nihilists to oust him from the speakership. Despite the coup's low chances of success, this kind of attempted fratricide almost certainly played a role in pushing Boehner toward quitting in the first place.
But even if he were to reverse course, who's to say that these dystopians wouldn't simply revive their efforts, especially since they're feeling emboldened by Kevin McCarthy's shocking demise? In any event, this would at best buy the GOP another year-plus, until the end of the current Congress. For now, Boehner has said he'll remain speaker until a replacement is chosen, adding, "I'm confident we will elect a new speaker in the coming weeks." Translation: He's not confident of any such thing.
2) Magical Elephant Unicorn. This is where Republicans try to find someone else who can somehow obtain 218 GOP votes for speaker. This, shall we say, is looking bloody damn impossible, thanks to the maniacs who comprise the roughly 40-member Freedom Caucus. Right now, a whole bunch of Republicans—including, apparently, Boehner himself—are trying to convince Paul Ryan to do it, but a nameless "Ryan pal" quoted by Politico said there's no chance because "he's not a fucking moron."
And oh, look at this! The wingnuts are already pissed about the possibility of Speaker Ryan, in particular because he's not a hardliner on immigration, an issue that sparks more anger among the conservative base than almost any other. So how's he supposed to get to 218? And even if he could, he'd feel the heat just like Boehner. That's what you get when you have a permanent cadre of confrontational radicals gnawing at your tailpipe.
3) Kick the Tire-Fire Down the Road. Some Republicans have floated the idea of an "interim" speaker. The problem with this idea is that no one, not even congressional scholars, has any idea what it means, and it's unclear if House rules even allow such a thing. As Roll Call's Warren Rojas wonders, how long would such a position last? When would it start? And how would it be filled—by election or appointment?
Considering that Republicans can't even agree on who should be speaker, there's no way they'd agree on a complex set of rules for who should be pretend-speaker. And even if they could, kaboom! In, say, three month's time, they'd be right back where they are now. But the idea of a series of temporary placeholder gigs dovetails perfectly with the modern GOP's approach to governance, since the party lurches from one near-government shutdown to the next with the short-term spending bills it can barely pass. So maybe this is actually the perfect solution.
4) End of the World as We Knew It. The Republicans could simply opt to leave the speakership vacant. According to Gerard Magliocca, this sort of thing used to happen back in the 19th century, but only in situations when no party held a majority of seats in the House. It would be pretty nuts to see this happen now, when Republicans do hold a majority—and not just any majority, but, as they like to crow, their biggest since the Roaring Twenties. Of course, the Republican Party ispretty nuts, and we all remember what happened to them after the 1920s.
Should the speakership become vacant—that is, should Boehner bail prior to the election of a successor—there are provisions that would elevate someone to the position of speaker pro tempore. Amusingly, that someone would come from a list that Boehner himself delivered to the House clerk right after he was re-elected speaker in January. ThinkProgress asked to see that list, but the clerk refused to provide it. The name on top, though, is probably ... Kevin McCarthy.
5) Walk of Doom. In this final scenario, which comes in a couple of different flavors, some sort of bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans come together to pick a speaker. GOP Rep. Charlie Dent has been the biggest proponent of this idea, but there are sooo many issues with this one that it's insanely unlikely. Still, we'll walk through it just for fun.
So in one variation, the bulk of Republicans tell the Freedom Caucus to stuff it and find just enough Democrats willing to make up the difference. Problem number one is that there's zero ideological overlap between the parties these days—the most liberal Republican is far to the right of even the most conservative Democrat—so it's hard to even come up with a list of Democrats who'd remotely consider such a thing.
Problem number two is that Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House, already said (even before McCarthy's self-immolation) that Democrats won't bail Republicans out, and why should they? As pathetically sad as this entire debacle is for what it says about our nation, no Democrat can deny how much fun they're having watching the GOP literally cry tears of anguish. When your enemy is drowning, toss 'em a cinderblock.
Problem number three, though, is the biggest of all. Can you imagine the anger that would get directed toward any Democrats who would help prop up the Republicans and vote for their speaker? Progressives would certainly flip out and start calling for heads, pronto. No one wants that.
But now imagine the reverse—the variant where Democratspick a speaker with the aid of a small rump group of Republican "moderates" who are sick to death of their own party's dysfunction. Any Republican willing to go along with such a scheme would be signing his or her own political death warrant in the very next primary. You might as well just jump into the volcano face-first.
And that's where we are, friends—at the lip of the cosmic caldera, with mysterious hellfires swirling beyond us. The only way to know what happens next is to stand above the flames and watch.