Last night, Eric Cantor became the first House Majority Leader in history to lose a primary vote. Later today, he will announce that he is stepping down from his leadership role as of the end of July, according to The Washington Post's Fix blog. Cantor has been the House majority leader since 2011.
What happens now? No one knows. Because Cantor's loss to challenger David Brat was so unexpected, there's no clear course.
It's a big scramble, not just to find a replacement majority leader, but to figure out who will step into the role of Speaker of the House when Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) inevitably steps down. Via National Journal:
A senior Republican leadership aide described the mood as "chaos for the leadership ranks."
"We're absolutely stunned. Honestly, we really can't believe it," said the aide, who likened it to the 2004 election defeat of Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who was Senate minority leader at the time.
"Given the speculation Boehner himself may decide not to run again for speaker, the idea had been out there that Cantor would simply walk into the speakership," said the aide. "But now, who the hell would be the next speaker?"—particularly, the aide added, if Paul Ryan doesn't want it, or Rep. Tom Price of Georgia isn't interested.
Two possible successors for Cantor's job are the current Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), according to Politico. There are other potential candidates as well.
In the bigger picture, what this probably means is that we're not only going to see a move to fill a gap in GOP leadership, but a public struggle to determine the direction and temperament of the Republican party going forward. This won't just be about finding somebody to do the job. It will be about what kind of party the GOP wants to be.