October 6, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
With Jim Jordan as the speaker, the House would be even more chaotic and disorderly
After Trump’s endorsement, will GOP insurgents hamstring him the way they did Kevin McCarthy? Or did they learn a lesson?
The story of this week’s historic tossing of the House speaker continues this morning with the endorsement of Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan by Donald Trump. After initially saying that he’d be open to serving on the job temporarily, Trump said last night that Jordan, the current chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is his choice to be the next speaker.
That’s probably going to fix things for Jordan, who has been a loyal Trump defender. He’s denied the fact of the J6 insurrection. He’s also the chair of the House panel to investigate the “weaponization” of the federal government, which is to say, head of the committee that’s investigating the Trump investigations, particularly the criminal cases arising from the US Justice Department. (He’s also threatened to investigate state and local prosecutors who have indicted Trump.)
As speaker, Jim Jordan will have to recognize a reality of leadership in a divided government, where the Democrats control the Senate and the White House, that the GOP insurgents refuse to recognize.
Other Republicans are vying for the speakership, including House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who worked closely with now-former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Trump himself has been mentioned as a potential candidate. (Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, who set the conditions for McCarthy’s fall, nominated “Donald John Trump” for speaker in January. You don’t have to be a member of the Congress to be the speaker.) Trump told Fox he’d be willing to step in temporarily only a few hours before endorsing Jordan on his social media site.
The idea of Trump being speaker should have been laughable from the start. Being speaker takes work, skill and a certain political brilliance – bargaining, persuading, needling, scolding, pleading, but mostly knowing where everyone in your party stands on any given issue, how they are going to vote and why. (Nancy Pelosi is the 21st century’s gold standard.) It’s not an executive role. You can’t just dispatch orders. “Speaker Trump” might have a certain ring to it for some people but his speakership would have been more chaotic than McCarthy’s.
Presuming that he gets the job, Jordan’s speakership probably won’t be much better. The question is whether the GOP insurgents who made life hell for McCarthy will make life hell for him. To be sure, he’s one of them. Ingroup identity will matter. But as speaker, Jordan will need to strike deals. (The government is running on stopgap legislation passed last weekend. It expires Nov. 17). He will have to recognize that the Democrats, not only in the House, have a legitimate interest in any negotiation. That’s the reality of leadership in a divided government, where the Democrats control the Senate and the White House.
McCarthy wasn’t much good at being speaker, but he did recognize that much, at least eventually, at the last minute last weekend, when he turned finally to the House Democrats to prevent the government from shutting down, to the relief of most of his conference. That’s a reality, however, that the GOP insurgents won’t tolerate. If they sense that Jordan might recognize what they refuse to recognize, will they force him to agree to a rule by which any member, Republican or Democrat, can file a motion to vacate the chair? Will they force him to agree to the same, or a similar rule, that brought down McCarthy?
If they do, we can expect Jordan to avoid making McCarthy’s mistake, which wasn’t a mistake, of course, but rather the right thing to do, politically speaking, as keeping the government open was what the majority of his conference wanted. We can expect Jordan to privilege his speakership even over the interests “moderate” Republicans, who will probably go along, because they are afraid, which will mean the likelihood of the government shutting down Nov. 17 is pretty high.
Then again, maybe the GOP insurgents won’t force Jordan to sacrifice his power in order for him to have at least some of it. They might just trust him. He is, after all, a fellow insurgent. But they might also have learned a lesson from the historic tossing of the House speaker, which is that the Democrats might punish them again if they let them, and they did let them when they forced McCarthy to agree to a rule allowing anyone to file a motion to vacate the chair. They never believed the Democratic caucus would side with a tiny number of Republicans to toss McCarthy. That they did is probably something that every Republican, even the insurgents, want to avoid repeating.
One final question: will the Republicans “moderates,” who outnumber the insurgents but are frightened of them, allow an insurgent to become the speaker and potentially put them between a rock and a hard place, that is, force them to go home to explain why disrupting the normal functioning of government is a reasonable thing to do in exchange for extracting policy concessions? Some may just cave the power of Trump’s endorsement. But others might find reasons why the better option is Steve Scalise, who like McCarthy recognizes the reality of a divided government and the practical need for dealmaking.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.