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Jim Jordan Seeks to Win House Speakership by Scaring Moderates Into Submission

Jordan’s allies seem to believe threatening the wrath of the GOP’s MAGA base will be enough to intimidate any opponents.

Rep. Jim Jordan speaks to reporters as House Republicans hold a caucus meeting at the Longworth House Office Building on October 13, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Opinions among the political-observer class vary greatly as to whether Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, House Republicans’ latest pick for the speakership, can actually claim the gavel. What appears clear, however, is that this weekend will be decisive as Jordan, a former wrestling coach turned bullheaded far-right firebrand and Donald Trump loyalist, hopes to convince or persuade his intra-party opponents that he is literally the last man standing who can return the slender GOP majority to some semblance of functionality.

Jordan emerged from an internal vote of House Republicans on Friday only slightly better off than Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana did a few days earlier. Scalise had also won a majority of GOP members in a caucus vote, but withdrew on Thursday after it became clear he was never going to get the 217 votes required to be elected speaker on the House floor. Jordan won the speakership nomination with a reported 124 votes, which was 11 more than Scalise received earlier last week, but he still needs to convince nearly every Republican who voted against him to ride along in a showdown before the full House. With two seats currently vacant in the 435-seat House — one reasonably safe seat from each party — Jordan can only afford to lose four votes from the 221 Republican members.

A CNN report by Clare Foran and Jeremy Herb, published on Saturday morning, makes the conventional-wisdom case that Jordan has little chance of winning the speakership as “deep internal divisions” among House Republicans have led to “a state of paralysis.” A second secret-ballot vote on Friday suggested that 55 GOP members were unwilling to support Jordan in a floor vote, which certainly sounds like the kiss of death. “Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated,” Foran and Herb write, with some members “openly questioning whether anyone can reach 217 votes.”

That all sounds approximately logical, by the norms of Beltway journalism, which is also why it may not reflect reality. There’s another perspective available, which starts by understanding that we’re talking about Republicans — and for that matter, elected Republicans in Congress — who are driven almost entirely by cowardice, fear and self-delusion rather than by principle or ideology or even what most of us would consider rational political calculation.

Jim Jordan has a force behind his campaign for the speakership that Steve Scalise did not, even if there’s little or no room between them in terms of what is now hilariously called “conservative” politics. Jordan was the founding chair of the House Freedom Caucus and has been a devoted lieutenant in the MAGA movement since Donald Trump’s first moments on the political scene. He represents the most hard-line, intransigent elements of the Big Lie Let’s Go Brandon caucus and has never pretended otherwise. Everyone understands that as speaker he will seek to impeach Joe Biden on invented claims of enormous crimes, will relentlessly persecute Merrick Garland and Jack Smith and Fani Willis and Alvin Bragg, and will concoct increasingly outlandish conspiracy theories about government persecution of the right. He will not, of course, propose any significant legislation that has any chance of passing both chambers of Congress, but these days that’s hardly the point.

That’s why the more hard-headed theory proposed by Politico’s Playbook reporters on Saturday seems at least somewhat convincing: Jordan is in a much stronger position to terrorize his “moderate” Republican colleagues into capitulating than Scalise ever could have been. It’s true, the authors acknowledge, that some GOP members are concerned that Jordan will be politically toxic as speaker, pushing for a government shutdown and poisoning the party’s chance of holding the House next year. But “Jordan and his allies are ready to fight in a way that Scalise wasn’t,” they write. “Their strategy is simple: Smoke out the holdouts in a public floor vote and put them in a political pressure cooker.”

Any Republican members who vote against Jordan on the House floor, predicted Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, will then “hear from the grassroots,” by which he means the unbending Trump loyalists who make up the majority of Republican voters in the safest Republican seats. The “belief in Jordan world,” Politico reports, is that “his opponents will cave under pressure from the GOP base,” and the item concludes by observing that anti-Jordan members do not have a strong track record of defying their colleagues, to put it mildly.”

Neither of these analyses makes explicit a fact that almost everyone understands: Speaker Jim Jordan would simultaneously represent a significant victory for Donald Trump and a significant step along the Republican Party’s road to medium-term political self-annihilation. Maybe that’s why it was bound to happen sooner or later.

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