But the offer had a caveat, sources say. Price had to pledge unwavering support to the speaker. Price declined. He thought he could win, regardless of Boehner’s muscle. Ryan, fresh off his vice-presidential run, endorsed him, along with a slew of other House Republicans, such as Representative Jeb Hensarling (R., Tex.) and Representative Mike Pence (R., Ind.). FreedomWorks, RedState, and other conservative activists also backed him.
“At the end of the day, Price thinks Boehner’s people worked against him,” says a Republican House staffer. “His style isn’t to complain publicly, and he doesn’t get emotional, but he is talking to members about how that vote went down.”
Two years ago, Price was elected policy chairman, the conference’s fifth-ranking position. He is considered a serious, conservative legislator by his House peers. The speculation about his plans and his frayed relationship with Boehner hasn’t changed that, but it has made him less predictable.
For the moment, those who know Price well say he’s not eager to begin fighting Boehner, but he is ready to speak out, should the debt talks get messy. “He is hoping for the best, hoping taxes don’t go up with any fiscal-cliff deal,” says a Price ally. “But if Republican leaders make a mistake on taxes, he wants conservatives to battle.”
A Price run for a speakership would likely be fueled by outside conservative groups, but even Price confidants admit that it would be extremely difficult. As his friends explain, Price would consider a run only if there is a groundswell against Boehner later this month. If there is not a groundswell, then they almost certainly lack the wide support and name recognition to mount a serious bid.
Price is also being mentioned as a potential challenger to Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss, who has been critical of Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. In 2014, Chambliss will be up for reelection and Price is considered a top primary contender. “Sometimes opportunity comes along and you weigh whether or not you can be of service,” he says, when asked about the possibility.
Many Republican operatives think the “Price for Speaker” talk in the conservative backrooms is more about scaring Chambliss than scaring Boehner. “I hear he’s interested in that primary, so he’s making his name as a conservative,” says a Georgia-based consultant. “That’s what he’s probably running for, not speaker.”
Price won’t make a final decision about a Senate run until next year. In the meantime, expect him to be more vocal in the lower chamber. “The House is rough and tumble, and I love it,” he says. “If the speaker listens to the conference and agrees to not raise taxes, he’ll be successful.”
“So far, I think the speaker is doing that,” Price says. “But we’ve got to watch what happens.”
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.