Welcome to Thunderdome, where after three long weeks, the Republicans in the House finally found their path toward a speaker — and boy is it a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto of a choice. Louisiana’s Mike Johnson, known for his kinglike dominance of the green line meme, is your new speaker of the House. He is eminently difficult to categorize, a cipher, an ardent social conservative with little in the way of fiscal conservative instincts but with a lot in favor of Zionist support for Israel.
If you are a Squad member, this guy’s your nightmare. But he’s also likely to drive the media crazy, because he’s basically an unupdated social conservative from 2004. Perhaps not exactly what the Democrats had in mind when they helped Matt Gaetz knife Kevin McCarthy. Now they’ve got a Bible thumper who loves Israel even more but likes Ukraine a lot less — so you had better hope the Democrats planned for cynical outcomes and a major backlash, because that’s what they’re going to get!
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As for my thoughts on Johnson himself, here were a few:
At long last, House Republicans finally selected their new speaker: Mike Johnson, the Shreveport native who resembles nothing so much as the pale casseroles ubiquitous to Baptist fellowship halls across the American South. They could be white cheddar cheese and boiled potatoes, they could be whipped cream and banana with Nilla wafers — you won’t know ’til you take a scoop, but you won’t have to chew very much to enjoy it.
Mike Johnson is perhaps the furthest thing from Kevin McCarthy in experience. He has no record as a fundraiser. He is a strong social conservative, a version that has not been updated since the mid-2000s. He is opposed to gay marriage, no contest divorce and legal marijuana, and became known nationally primarily as an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom (then the Alliance Defense Fund), a very active social conservative legal group at the center of hot button fights.
Johnson ascends to the speakership after a series of dick-punch events for the House GOP. Matt Gaetz’s personal animus led to Kevin McCarthy’s very public shivving, but with Johnson as speaker, the House needs McCarthy’s fundraising prowess more than ever. The attempt to make Jim Jordan speaker was disastrous — and might even have made him too toxic to ever get the gavel. Steve Scalise and Tom Emmer flamed out early and chose to stick to their positions as leader and whip rather than risk meandering failures. So Johnson — unaffiliated with the most active fiscally conservative groups, viewed as a genuine Christian and in a sense anti-Machiavellian, is the conference’s fallback choice. Had Johnson failed, the only real choice left to Republicans was to elevate Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry — who did his level best to avoid the job — and that really was the last resort.
Johnson has set an ambitious schedule for the House GOP, with a number of fiscal fights that will immediately come into play. What I suspect Republicans are about to learn is that their fiscal animosity, expressed by House Freedom Caucus types over the past decade, are all on the outs now. Johnson is simply not a fiscal conservative, nor does he have any of the libertarian-ish tendencies of the blue-state Republicans of recent years. Ideologically, the closest thing in national politics to Johnson is Mike Pence.
My biggest takeaway: having never negotiated massive legislative packages or raised a ton of money, Johnson is not in an ideal position leading your party heading into a presidential election. And Democrats know it.
A foreign policy primary?
The 2024 hopefuls are all headed to Las Vegas to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition over the next forty-eight hours, and the timing couldn’t be more relevant. Here’s a curtain raiser:
Like last year, the event will serve as an opportunity for major GOP presidential candidates to showcase their visions for the country with just a few months to go until the Republican presidential primary and Nevada caucus.
On Saturday, former president Donald Trump, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, former vice president Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, South Carolina senator Tim Scott and North Dakota governor Doug Burgum are scheduled to speak.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a candidate in the 2024 Republican primary in the United States, said Thursday that he had arranged to send drones, weapons and ammunition to Israel as it prepares for a ground incursion in Gaza in response to Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught.
It was the latest official response DeSantis has taken to back Israel. Florida has sent cargo planes with healthcare supplies, drones, body armor and helmets, said Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for the governor’s office. The US state also worked with private groups to supply weapons and ammunition at the request of Israel’s consul general in Miami, Redfern said.
It feels like we’re moving more and more toward this being a foreign policy primary, if not a foreign policy election — and these types of steps highlight the difference between talking and doing. But one key question, if not at the RJC then at the following debate, will be support for a split with Ukraine and Israel funding. It’s unclear how that will shake out among the candidates…
NBC nabs another debate… will people care?
About that debate! This time with Lester Holt, Kristen Welker and Hugh Hewitt:
NBC’s Lester Holt and Kristen Welker are set to moderate the third Republican primary debate alongside morning talk show host Hugh Hewitt, NBC announced on Wednesday.
The three will take the stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami on November 8, as the remaining GOP presidential hopefuls — those who can qualify — push to break away from the pack in the polls.
So far, five candidates have hit the Republican National Committee’s increasingly stringent requirements to make it onto the debate stage. Florida governor Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have all qualified, as has the current frontrunner, former president Donald Trump — who is set to again skip the debate in favor of his own rally in nearby Hialeah, Florida.
Former vice president Mike Pence, meanwhile, has met the polling requirements but still needs to hit the 70,000-donor mark. Senator Tim Scott has yet to hit either threshold, according to Politico’s analysis, though his campaign has claimed he has met the polling requirements.
So long as Donald Trump doesn’t show up to these, and it doesn’t appear he ever will, I maintain that DeSantis and Haley would be better off telling the RNC to go pound sand and doing whatever they want. As it stands, it’s doubtful this debate will change anything at all.
Trump keeps getting fined
The former president’s legal woes continue as he just gets fine after fine for speaking out of turn and violating gag orders. But he also is experiencing more and more drawbacks as former staffers and attorneys turn against him:
Former Donald Trump attorney Jenna Ellis on Tuesday became the fourth person to take a plea deal in Georgia over alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Ellis — who promoted Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud alongside an ”elite strike force team” of lawyers following the election — pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting false statements and writings.
She is set to serve five years of probation, pay $5,000 in restitution, and write an apology letter to the citizens of Georgia. She also must testify truthfully at co-defendants’ trial.
In a tearful statement to the court after pleading guilty, Ellis said she has “deep remorse” over her experience promoting the false election claims. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges,” she said.
Ellis said she relied on other lawyers with more experience who said the election was stolen, and didn’t do her “due diligence” to check those claims. She did not mention any of the lawyers by name.
In any normal election, this is the sort of thing Trump would have to answer questions about, and other issues related to his behavior. But so long as he’s in the background, Republicans don’t have to deal with these questions… and that means he continues to be out of sight, out of mind.
One more thing
Remember when Vivek Ramaswamy was the hottest thing on the right for a few minutes? No, me neither. Now he’s just sitting down with Alex Jones to talk about how they’re both targets of the neoliberal globalist regime. Well, so much for Vivek’s promising future in Ohio or elsewhere. Shiny objects have a way of getting dingy very fast in this media age, and embracing Alex Jones — something Ramaswamy didn’t have to do, at all — is a good way to write your political epitaph before you’ve even gotten started. So long, Vivek! We got to know you a bit too well.