There are so many reasons why Republicans would be bonkers to elect Representative Jim Jordan as Speaker of the House on Tuesday. The first is that the twitchy, shirt-sleeved House Judiciary Committee Chairman and one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus is not the face a normal GOP would want to put before the public next year, especially if Donald Trump is the presidential nominee.
Jordan is MAGA rage in a tie. According to the January 6 report, Jordan aided Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, participating in meetings with Rudy Giuliani and Trump, arguing for delaying the January 6 election certification, and spewing lies on Fox and at “Stop the Steal” rallies. The nine-term veteran defied the January 6 committee’s subpoena to get to the bottom of his role, which would, I suppose, make him the first House speaker to defy a House subpoena. Jordan’s longtime Ohio colleague, former House Speaker John Boehner, called him a “political terrorist,” telling CBS’s John Dickerson, “I just never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart ― never building anything, never putting anything together.” Jordan and Trump as the face of the party next year? Along with an ossified Mitch McConnell? Probably not the best way for Republicans to win back the White House, flip the Senate, and keep the House.
Plus, Jordan has a certain Greco-Roman-Denny Hastert problem. Hastert was the longest-serving Republican speaker in U.S. history, wielding the gavel from 1998 to 2007. Like Jordan, Hastert was a wrestling coach working with young men. He was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison in 2016 for paying to cover up his admitted sexual abuse of high school and college wrestlers. Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach at The Ohio State University from 1986 to 1994 when the team’s physician, Richard Strauss, who died in 2005, engaged in sexual predation against dozens of wrestlers. Jordan has maintained he knew nothing of the abuse, but wrestlers have said it was common knowledge and that Jordan surely knew of it and is unfit for office. Even if you assume that “Gym” Jordan, known for rarely donning a jacket, knew nothing of the assaults, is that really something you want to make an issue?
Then there’s the fact that he’s not very good at the basics, like passing legislation. Regarding agenda and messaging—something the GOP House surely needs, his attempts to undermine the FBI probe into the 2016 Russia-Trump campaign relationship were a bust, and his efforts to fan Hunter Biden’s legal morass have been pretty weak. Denizens of the Washington Monthly won’t be surprised to hear that Jordan has used his chairmanship to oppose antitrust crackdowns on the tech industry.
Jordan may or may not be elected speaker tomorrow afternoon. He won a majority of the Republican House Conference last week. He will essentially be the GOP nominee when the entire House votes this week and Democrats put forward Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
But as of Friday, Jordan was more than 50 votes short of having the 217 Republicans needed to put him over the top, and reports over the weekend from Punchbowl‘s Jake Sherman and others were that he was still way shy. But Jordan has some things going for him. He not only opposed the ouster of Kevin McCarthy but worked hard as a bridge to the radical/nihilist right to stop the defenestration. That won plaudits in the conference.
When McCarthy was ousted, the 59-year-old Jordan joined the race. He lost a bake-off earlier this month with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. But the Louisiana Republican abandoned his campaign when he realized he didn’t have the votes, leaving Jordan to spend the weekend in Washington while everyone else went home, trying to leverage his popularity with the Republican base. (Trump has endorsed Jordan’s bid.) Some Republicans like Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a Jordan backer, have said that heavy-handed tactics like threats of primary challenges won’t work.
If Jordan can pull it off, consider Dusty Johnson, the South Dakota representative and chair of what’s often called the “moderate” Main Street Caucus. Moderate isn’t the correct label for the 5’11”, 145-pound Johnson, who self-effacingly notes his resemblance to popcorn purveyor Orville Redenbacher. Johnson is a conservative but an operational conservative, comfortable with the nuts-and-bolts of policymaking and a disdain for antics. Johnson dubbed the current situation a “clown car.” A wunderkind from a politics-immersed family in Pierre, the state capital, he played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, won election to the Public Utilities Commission at 28, and served as chief of staff to Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard from 2011 to 2014. He was among a few Republicans who voted to form the January 6 commission. The third-term Republican was part of the 96 percent of the conference that wanted to keep McCarthy, and he was a Scalise backer in the first round, but he’s reportedly going to speak on Jordan’s behalf this week.
Why? Part of the answer might be that he sees Jordan not as a political terrorist but as a reasonable official. Johnson, a supporter of military aid to Ukraine, has said he’ll try to convince Jordan to support assistance to Kyiv. Johnson gently pushed back on a CNN anchor quoting other members who see Jordan as a nut. Like everyone in the conference, he wants to get the speaker‘s chair filled.
But part of the answer to why Johnson would back Jordan lies in South Dakota’s changing politics. It’s been a solid red state in presidential races since 1964. While it gave us Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in the Aughts (and long before that, George McGovern), it no longer sends Democrats to Congress. But the Capitol Hill delegation is not full MAGA. It’s dispatched operational conservatives like Mike Rounds and John Thune to the U.S. Senate. But the Trump shift has moved the state to the right. Governor Kristi Noem, who preceded Johnson in Congress, was wary of Trump in 2016, a MAGA starlet in 2020, and a possible veep for the 45th president next year if he secures the nomination, as seems likely. Johnson has avoided culture war issues, while Noem, who vetoed an anti-trans sports bill back in 2021 when Amazon was considering moving a facility to South Dakota, has come to embrace the legislation. She has since signed an anti-trans law and a six-week abortion ban. (For a deep dive into Johnson and the tableau of South Dakota politics, see this lengthy and smart report from Stu Whitney in South Dakota News Watch.) Johnson is reportedly considering a gubernatorial bid in 2026 to succeed Noem, who might challenge Rounds. Backing Jim Jordan wouldn’t hurt in a state shifting to the right.
A couple of months ago, the idea of Jim Jordan as the Speaker of the House would have seemed laughable, and it still may not happen. The mere fact that it’s so plausible—McCarthy is now backing Jordan—shows how far right the House has moved and how unlikely it is to inch back to the center.