Politics & Media
Oct 23, 2023, 06:26AM

Jordan’s Friday the 13th Offensive Fails

GOP House still non-Magafied for now.

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Jim Jordan just tried and failed to shove his way into becoming Speaker of the House by means of a right-wing publicity campaign against his opponents. For a while it looked like the MAGA champion might succeed. The Hill was dramatic: “Jordan Builds Speakership Momentum as Opposition Fails,” it declared last Monday. Nick Catoggio at The Bulwark was bleak: “Moderates always cave,” he wrote, echoing a poetic but anonymous Republican member of Congress (“Moderates always cave. A tale as old as time”). The Washington Post was more dubious: Jordan “might not yet have the votes,” it wrote Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, Punchbowl News excelled: “Jim Jordan Is in Trouble,” its headline said that same morning, and the article warned that Jordan was “as many as 20 votes short.”

Jordan was exactly 20 votes short last Tuesday, the day of his first floor vote for speaker of the House. The next day he was 22 votes short. Then the candidate decided to hang back a couple of months and let a caretaker run the House while he got his support firmed up. But his followers said no to the idea and he had to run a third time. That was last Friday and he lost by 25 votes. One reads that the anti-Jordan forces cooperated among themselves to drive the number up from one round to the next. A few would vote Jordan just for effect, to create a dramatic contrast with the next round’s vote total, when they’d vote against him. By Friday’s end, House Republicans had given up on the MAGA champion. In a secret ballot they decided by 122 to 86 that he was no longer the party’s choice for speaker.

Jordan and his allies had been counting on pain to bring his enemies around. His team wouldn’t dicker about committee seats or promise dams to favored districts. It would point at the holdouts and let the MAGA hordes descend upon them. That was how the House would find a new leader weeks after the downfall of Kevin McCarthy, a speaker who’d been foolish enough to let stand a rule that allows any member of the House to force a vote on whether the speaker can keep his job. Matt Gaetz, a pro-Trump congressman, called a vote because McCarthy sort of complied with a bipartisan agreement he’d struck on federal spending. McCarthy was accordingly dropped after Gaetz and a handful of other Republicans voted with the Democrats to get rid of him. Another non-Maggite, Steve Scalise, was chosen by majority vote of the caucus, with Jordan second. But Scalise never got near a floor vote—Jordan’s friends, plus others, signaled they wouldn’t vote for him, so he dropped out. Jordan won the next caucus vote, on Friday the 13th.

The GOP’s new speaker-designate set about bringing his opponents in the party to heel so he’d be able to beat the Democrats when time came for a floor vote to decide the speakership. The Friday 13th offensive was his solution. Over the weekend, and then as the three floor votes succeeded each other, the forces of MAGA encouraged followers to bombard anti-Jordan congresspeople with signs of displeasure. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, activist Charlie Kirk, and a helpful senator named Mike Lee took part. “Then bring it,” tweeted Anna Paulina Luna, another congresswoman, to the anti-Jordanaires. Steve Bannon told his listeners to go after Steve Womack, a congressman whose thinking was wrong. On Twitter, Matt Gaetz, 1.4 million followers, sicced his fans on John Rutherford, 18.9 thousand followers. Sean Hannity’s staff sent around an email asking the troublesome congresspeople how they could be against Jordan. Hannity himself called up members of Congress to reason with them.

The first couple of days brought the offensive some conspicuous victories. Mike Rogers, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had said on Friday there was “nothing Jordan could do to win his vote,” to quote Politico. On Monday he changed his mind. “I have always been a team player,” he explained. On Friday, Ann Wager said “Absolutely not” when asked if she could support Jordan. She’d been disgusted by his ill-will toward Scalise—there were “gasps in the room” when he delivered “the most disgraceful, ungracious—I can’t call it a concession speech—of all time,” she declared. Then came Monday. “I have always been a team player,” she said thoughtfully, and Jordan had another supporter. Three other opponents, Ken Calvert, Vern Buchanan, and Mike Burgess, also flipped.

Out of 55 congresspeople counted as anti-Jordan holdouts before the offensive, 30 gave way. But Womack voted against Jordan, as did Rutherford. By the middle of the week, four of the targeted representatives reported death threats. The threats did the cause no good. By the end, as we’ve seen, 25 congresspeople lined up against Jordan, several times what he could afford to lose. Maybe Trump, MAGA’s chieftain, could’ve turned it all around by pitching in and making (non-lethal) threats himself. But foresight and loyalty aren’t his thing. Instead, the offensive broke against what appears to be a sheer dislike for being pushed around. “Bullying don’t work,” grunted Don Bacon, one of the targets. “Republicans for years have intentionally been choosing as their representatives the most obstinate, pugnacious, uncompromising types,” observes The Wall Street Journal’s Molly Ball. We’ve seen the problems that brings, but it provides a certain failsafe too.


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