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.
If Kevin McCarthy brought a PowerPoint to the job of speaker, Johnson brings the adult Sunday school workbook. At his church in Louisiana last week, his pastor announced to the body “a prayer for any leader who is in a position of authority in America, if their heart is to bring harm to Israel, God that you would deal with them accordingly, and we need people who will unashamedly courageously boldly say: we stand with the people of God.”
So I’m thinking Israel will get that aid. Speaker Johnson, the floor is yours. Good luck keeping it.