For a brief and illusory moment, it looked like the GOP had found its center, and the center had finally found its voice.
Moderate Republicans started pushing back against Trump-inspired bullying, and refused to respond to threats over the House Speakership vote. Behind closed doors, 112 Republicans then gave Jim Jordan the thumbs-down, and the caucus pivoted to the center, nominating centrist Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) for Speaker.
Alas, the center could not hold.
When learning of Emmer’s nomination, Trump began personally calling House members to attack him as a “Globalist RINO.” Hours later, Emmer dropped out of the race and Trump bragged, “[Emmer’s] done. It’s over. I killed him.”
Emmer’s crime? Obeying the Constitution. Instead of kissing the ring and indulging Trump’s election fraud, Emmer voted to certify Biden’s 2020 win.
Johnson, election denier from Louisiana, was an obscure extremist
House Republicans have now unanimously elected Mike Johnson, one of the most extreme MAGA conservatives in the House, as Speaker. Johnson:
- Is an extreme anti-gay crusader who supports criminalizing sodomy;
- Supports a national abortion ban;
- Disavows the Constitutional separation of church and state;
- Is a Christian Nationalist; and
- Rejects climate science, as he is beholden to fossil fuel campaign financing.
Even more extreme than Johnson’s 12th century views were his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
In December 2020, Johnson sent an email to every House Republican soliciting their signature on an amicus brief to support a Texas claim before the Supreme Court that sought to invalidate votes from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, four battleground states Biden had won. Johnson’s email pressured Congressmen to sign onto the brief by advising them that Trump was “anxiously awaiting the final list” to see who signed to support his stolen election claims.
Texas’ crackpot challenge was legally suspect from the beginning, but Trump wanted to see a “list” of loyalists who supported him enough to advance dubious legal claims before the high court. SCOTUS rejected the stunt with a terse reminder that Texas didn’t have a say in how the states of Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin conducted their elections. Only a few days after Texas filed the claim, SCOTUS rebuffed it, ruling simply that, “Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”
Johnson embraced debunked Hugo Chavez claims
Johnson’s efforts went beyond nationwide activism on the spurious Supreme Court challenge. Johnson also peddled outlandish stolen election claims that have since been debunked, not the least through Sydney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro’s guilty pleas.
Although it didn’t age well, Johnson’s 2020 post-election interview may serve as a guidepost on what we can expect from a rabidly pro-Trump speakership in 2024. Johnson said:
“…[W]hen you have [election fraud] on a broad scale, when you have, you know a software system that is used all around the country that is suspect because it came from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela … You know, and that’s the problem that we’re up against. … The allegations about these voting machines, some of them being rigged with this software by Dominion … when [Trump] says the election is rigged, that’s what he’s talking about, that it was - the fix was in.”
Fox News recently agreed to pay Dominion $787 million dollars for those exact same lies.
MAGA creates stories, then cites them as evidence
An October public opinion survey conducted with the Brookings Institute found that almost all Americans (92%) who listen to far-right news like Fox believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and a rising percentage support political violence as a result.
As Trump faces multiple criminal indictments for attempting to overturn the election, his counsel keeps filing serial attempts to shield him from legal liability. Citing news articles and op-eds rather than evidence, Trump’s team claims that Biden pressured the DOJ to pursue a “nakedly political” prosecution of Trump. Trump’s pleadings rely on widespread concern about election fraud, manufactured anxieties that he and Johnson created, planted, watered, fed, and amplified in the first place.
Now that the far right has officially ascended in the House, we can expect continued attacks on election integrity, and contemptuous rebuke of efforts to hold Trump legally accountable. During Johnson’s first press conference as speaker, when a reporter asked about his efforts to overturn the last election, GOP Congressmen loudly “booed” and shouted “shut up!” drowning out the question.
Trump, of course, is pleased to see the House fall to his nefarious control.
How far Johnson will go in service to Trump to silence journalists, constrict the Bill of Rights, and disenfranchise the majority of Americans who agree Trump is either a criminal or unethical remains to be seen. For now, the people’s house has fallen to MAGA extremists, their hour come at last, slouching towards Bethlehem to be born.
Sabrina Haake is a 25-year litigator specializing in 1st and 14th Amendment defense. Her columns appear in OutSFL, Chicago Tribune, Salon, State Affairs, and Howey Politics. She and her wife split their time between South Florida and Chicago. Follow her on substack.