Jim Jordan’s failure shows the limits of ‘legislative terrorism’

The GOP establishment has had enough of the radicals’ tactics

Eric Garcia
Wednesday 18 October 2023 03:00 BST
Moment Jim Jordan loses first round of House speaker vote

Over the past day or so, it looked like Jim Jordan might actually clinch the speakership. He had won over some of his biggest skeptics in the House Republican conference. Even some Republicans from districts that voted for President Joe Biden like Rep Marc Molinaro (R-NY) and Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) announced their support for the right-wing firebrand.

Democrats, for their part, wanted to highlight Mr Jordan’s closeness with former president Donald Trump and his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, calling him an “insurrectionist,” citing his frequent opposition to disaster aid and attempts to shut down the government in 2013. They pointed to former House speaker John Boehner, whom Mr Jordan helped push out in 2015, who has called Mr Jordan a “legislative terrorist.” That led to Republicans booing and heckling during House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar’s nominating speech for Minority Hakeem Jeffries.

A Jordan victory would have symbolised the triumph of radical conservatives in the decade-long civil war they have waged against establishment Republicans – who, despite not necessarily being moderate, did understand the levers of governing – that began in 2010 during the Tea Party revolution. It would have been a sign that the institutionalists once again folded because they mistakenly believed if they incorporated the radicals into the fold, they would mature rather than see it as permission.

That, obviously, did not happen. Instead, a whopping 20 Republicans – some of them conservatives, others from swing districts and others institutionalists – revolted against Mr Jordan. After facing a week of badgering, aggressive lobbying and what some would call outright bullying, the coterie said “enough.” It revealed that while Mr Jordan has been quite deft at obstructing the levers of governing, he does not understand how to actually lead or win people to his side.

Throughout Mr Jordan’s bid for the speakership, one common thread seems to have emerged: many Republicans felt that supporters of Mr Jordan had engaged in intimidation tactics and had elbowed out first Kevin McCarthy and then House Majority Leader Steve Scalise in humiliating fashion to get their way.

“So my main concern is, as an American, we believe in the rule of law and fairness,” Rep Don Bacon of Nebraska told reporters before a meeting among Republicans in the House basement on Monday. “And we had a small group of folks who broke our rules and got rid of Kevin and then a small group broke our rules and blocked Steve.”

Mr Bacon hails from a district that voted for Mr Biden in 2020 and has long succeeded largely by virtue of positioning himself as a reasonable moderate. His words echoed those of Mr Scalise when he dropped out last week when he said “some people that have their own agendas” scotched his bid for speaker.

Mr Jordan’s supporters consistently put roadblocks in his path to prevent Mr Scalise from becoming speaker and many of them were indeed the same folks whom in January tried to block Mr McCarthy until he yielded to their every demand. Rep Chip Roy (R-TX) attempted to push an amendment that would require any nominee to have 217 votes. When the amendment failed, they continued to dig their heels in, with Mr Roy saying he would not vote for Mr Scalise on the floor.

Not only that, once Mr Scalise was defeated, the Jordan partisans continued their aggressive campaign. Friend of Inside Washington Juliegrace Brufke at Axiosreported how Mr Jordan’s supporters ticked off some Republicans when Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show had gotten involved.

Indeed, Rep Thomas Massie (R-KY), one of Mr Jordan’s strongest allies, appeared to place pressure on the holdouts when I spoke with him on Monday evening in the basement. He noted how over the weekend, “people went to football games and whatnot and events over the weekend and what they heard is not necessarily you have to pick Jordan but you have to come up with an answer soon. And the way to do that is vote for Jordan.”

But some of the Republicans seemed to resist that approach. Reps Carlos Giménez, Mario Díaz-Balart and John Rutherford of Florida all roundly rejected Mr Jordan’s tactics. After the vote, Mr Diaz-Balart told reporters “that millisecond when anybody tries to intimidate me” was the moment “I no longer have the flexibility.”

Similarly, Rep Victoria Spartz (R-IN), who voted for Mr Massie, roundly criticised the process and what she considered intimidation tactics when I spoke with her Monday evening, specifically decrying calls to stage primary challenges those who opposed Mr Jordan.

For years, ever since the 2010 wave, threats of a primary challenge became conservatives’s most effective tool to threaten establishment conservatives. It turns out those tactics don’t work to build a coalition. Fear without mutual respect is not sufficient to earn a gavel and the 20 Republicans finally expressed their dissatisfaction with how the radicals had conducted themselves and decided they would no longer negotiate with the legislative terrorists.

This is not to say that the radicals can’t stage a comeback. Indeed, they will likely remember this as a moment they got so close to a taste of power and rue against those who denied it to them. But they have shown that they do not have the capacity to actually implement plans to get the power to punish their enemies.

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