Politics / October 6, 2023

Trump’s Pick for Speaker Is a Nightmare Waiting to Happen

Trump wants his close political ally Ohio Republican Jim Jordan to become second in the line of presidential succession. Brace yourselves.

John Nichols
Former president Donald Trump welcomes Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to the stage at a campaign rally in support of the campaign of Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance at Wright Bros. Aero Inc. at Dayton International Airport on Monday, November 7, 2022, in Vandalia, Ohio. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Former president Donald Trump welcomes Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to the stage at a rally in support of Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Vandalia, Ohio, on November 7, 2022.

(Michael Conroy / AP)

Suffice it to say that if Liz Cheney had survived the wrath of Donald Trump and retained her congressional seat, she would be organizing congressional Republicans to oppose Jim Jordan’s bid to become speaker of the House.

But Cheney, the bluntest Republican critic of Trump’s assault on democracy, was crushed in the 2022 primary campaign for her Wyoming seat, thus foreclosing any chance that she would ever achieve the speakership that she so obviously coveted. But Cheney is still battling Trump and still, in her way, battling for the speakership.

Even before Trump endorsed Jordan’s candidacy to replace deposed speaker Kevin McCarthy early on Friday morning, Cheney was raising a red alert regarding the House Judiciary Committee chair’s bid to become the most powerful Republican in Washington.

Were House Republicans to opt for Jordan in the race he is now running against House majority leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), Cheney argued in an October 4 speech at the University of Minnesota, it would be an ominous development for her party and her country. “If they were to decide that Jim Jordan should be the Speaker of the House,” she warned, “there would no longer be any possible way to argue that a group of elected Republicans could be counted on to defend the Constitution.”

In reality, the notion that elected Republicans are inclined as a group to defend the Constitution went out the window long ago. Cheney was a part of the problem when she chaired the House Republican Conference and served as one of the most hawkish members of a chamber that regularly rejected its constitutional duty to check and balance presidential war-making and abuses of civil liberties. Cheney actually voted with Trump on a slightly more frequent basis than Jordan—though, it should be noted, on a slightly less frequent basis than Scalise, an insider whose social conservative streak comes with a pro-corporate edge.

Cheney’s concerns about Jordan are rooted in the bitter experiences of her final term in the House, when she and a handful of other Republicans tried to hold the former president to account for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Both Jordan and Scalise were on the wrong side of that fight, but Cheney, the former cochair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, argues, “Jim Jordan knew more about what Donald Trump had planned for January 6th than any other member of the House of Representatives. Jim Jordan was involved, was part of the conspiracy in which Donald Trump was engaged as he attempted to overturn the election.”

Jordan was so involved that he reportedly discussed the prospect of Trump issuing preemptory pardons to the former president’s congressional allies. And Jordan was among Trump’s most ardent defenders during his second impeachment in 2021.

That gives Cheney plenty of reasons to oppose Jordan—and Trump just as many reasons to support him. So it comes as no surprise that, within hours of Cheney’s warning, Trump rejected overtures from House allies who wanted him to seek the speakership and endorsed Jordan’s bid.

“He will be a GREAT Speaker of the House,” declared Trump, who added, “He is STRONG on Crime, Borders, our Military/Vets, & 2nd Amendment.”

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The choice between Scalise and Jordan is not an ideological one, and there’s an argument to be made that Scalise would be more effective at pulling the caucus together and advancing the conservative agenda. But Trump’s not interested. In the former president’s eyes, Jordan’s biggest selling point is that he is stronger on Trump than any top Republican in the House. Jordan proved that when he abused his authority as Judiciary Committee chair so egregiously that attorneys for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg alleged that he had engaged in “a campaign of intimidation, retaliation and obstruction” in order to undermine efforts to prosecute Trump—who currently faces 91 criminal indictments, in a number of jurisdictions.

And, of course, Jordan has been leading the effort to impeach Trump’s likely opponent in the 2024 presidential race, President Biden, on charges so spurious that constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, a frequent GOP witness on issues related to presidential accountability, told the House Oversight Committee that he did “not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment.”

If Jordan becomes speaker, it’s a safe bet that the impeachment inquiry will proceed more aggressively than it did under McCarthy— who faced criticism from conservatives for his hesitancy regarding the initiative. Even if Jordan could get the House to vote to impeach Biden—which is not guaranteed—the prospects for a conviction in the Democratic Senate would be slim.

But it is surely worth noting that, as speaker of the House, Jordan would not merely be the most powerful Republican in the Capitol. He would be second in the line of presidential succession after Vice President Kamala Harris.

A daunting thought for those who recall that former House speaker John Boehner, who once dismissed his fellow Ohio Republican as a “political terrorist,” has said of Jordan, “I just never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart—never building anything, never putting anything together.”

John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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