The first question most people might ask about newly minted Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is, who the heck is this guy? Even many political observers had barely heard of him, unlike former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), or his lieutenants, Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Tom Emmer (R-MN), and renowned firebrand Jim Jordan (R-OH) – all of whom were designated by the GOP to succeed McCarthy, and all of whom failed to close the deal.
How did Johnson achieve what the most high-profile politicians in his party could not? As the ugly process of replacing McCarthy commenced, the fourth-term congressman from Louisiana was not even on the radar screen. But after the first three nominees failed to unite the GOP conference, he put his name forward, along with seven others, and in the end became the beneficiary of an exhausted, frustrated conference finally willing to set differences aside and unite behind somebody. And so, the Shreveport native becomes the 56th Speaker of the House and the first speaker ever from Louisiana, joining fellow Cajun and LSU graduate Scalise atop the new House leadership.
Mike Johnson, Checking All the Boxes
A 51-year-old constitutional attorney and rock-ribbed evangelical conservative first elected to Congress three days after the death of his father, a firefighter who had previously been injured in the line of duty, Johnson has cheerful countenance and affability that apparently endeared him to fellow House Republicans, a factor that may have proven crucial in his election by a famously weary and divided conference. While not high up the ladder of leadership, Johnson has assumed some responsibility as House Republican Conference Vice Chairman, a position that exposed him to the full spectrum of the GOP House membership, from those in the Freedom Caucus, dismissed by some in the conference as extreme, to the establishment often brushed off by Donald Trump as “RINOs.”
On the other hand, Johnson faces the daunting task of uniting a fractured conference holding a bare majority in the House while never having headed even a congressional committee, a typical steppingstone for anyone hoping to become speaker. And when it comes to whipping votes on top of the endless travel and fundraising involved in this often-thankless new position, he is unproven.
Beyond ending the infighting that led to McCarthy’s ouster and the protracted process that followed, job one for the new speaker will be to discard the rule akin to the sword of Damocles: allowing a single member to introduce a motion to vacate the speakership. It proved fatal to McCarthy and kicked off 22 days of embarrassing headlines before Wednesday’s election of Johnson.
Mike Johnson, MAGA Extremist
While few question Johnson’s ideological bearings, his alliance with Trump, or his character, the immediate depiction of him by the White House as merely another in a long line of MAGA apostles demonstrates that he will be treated no better than Trump, McCarthy, or anyone else who is conservative or dared support the 45th president. A remark by Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to CNN is perhaps the most revealing: “I don’t know Mike Johnson well. Based on his track record, he appears to be an extreme right-wing ideologue.” Or, as far-left MSNBC headlined it, “Desperate GOP turns to election denier in race for House speaker.”
In the end, it was paradoxically Johnson’s lack of experience that allowed him to cross the finish line. His relatively thin voting record worked in his favor, with neither hard-core conservatives nor establishment Republicans raising sufficient concerns to block his election. Of course, as he is flooded by well-wishers as his speakership begins, he will soon realize why, as Liberty Nation recently opined, given the almost impossible demands and pressure of the position, friends don’t let friends run for Speaker of the House.