Its The Quiet Ones You Have To Watch Out For: Mike Johnson Edition
After much ado and several weeks of nothing but drama, the House of Representatives once again has a Speaker of the House. Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana received the unanimous consent of the majority Republican Party and now takes the gavel in the People’s House.
After the predictable deposing of Kevin McCarthy, the House GOP conference saw Steve Scalise falling short, Jim Jordan not taking no for an answer a few times, Tom Emmer’s public emasculation by Donald Trump and allies without even getting a floor vote, and various other machinations before elevating Speaker Johnson. In what had become a weekly tradition of Rep. Elise Stefanik nominating a Speaker candidate, the New York Republican invoked the Biblical David in showering Johnson with praise, changing it up a bit from breaking out the Biblical Esther for Jim Jordan’s nominating speech the week prior.
What a journey it has been.
While the made-for-TV news bombast of Jim Jordan was on full display in his failed bid, Mike Johnson strikes an altogether different public persona. He’s soft spoken, described by everyone as polite and cordial, and indeed won the gavel by being in no small part the Republican in the room with the least enemies. Johnson has none of the usual experience that leads one to the Speaker of the House role, having not even chaired a committee or been in high party leadership. Compared to the walking ATM Kevin McCarthy has been for over a decade now, his fundraising is miniscule, his staff and operation small, and he will be living the “outhouse to the penthouse” saying by moving from his current basement office to arguably the best office space on Capitol Hill.
This personality difference, however, needs to be noted and paid attention to. On any matter that matters to the folks to whom it matters in the Republican Party, Mike Johnson is not appreciably different on policy or politics from the men who failed before him. He’s a Trump supporter through and through. He not only is an active culture warrior, but a happy and committed one at that. He’s a true believer and, as Jake Tapper recounted remembering his initial meetings with Johnson long before he was in congress, a smooth operator in person.
Unlike Trump, Jordan, and others, Mike Johnson has figured out that it’s best to be the smartest person in the room without trying to tell everyone about it. The new Speaker has shown, with his sweeping victory seemingly out of nowhere for the public but predicted by astute reporters covering the Republican conference, that the real operators do so while no one really notices. The Louisiana Republican has the bearing and demeanor where he can hard right with anyone but does it with a smile and folksy anecdotes to make the crafted messaging more receivable.
The oft-hand remarks by Democrats as reported by Heather Caygle that Mike Johnson is “(Jim)Jordan in a coat” and “different waiter, same menu” have truth to them. The men are ideologically in lockstep. But it is in their approach where folks should pay heed and take notice. It’s the quiet ones you always have to watch out for, and all the pundits and commentators, me included, who did not see the Mike Johnson Speakership coming need to pause for a moment of reflection. Just two days ago, almost everyone was convinced, with resounding public evidence, that the GOP House caucus was ungovernable. Quietly, over the last several days at least and probably weeks, Mike Johnson not only herded the cats but picked his moment, getting unanimous consent from a group that was yelling and cursing at each other in meetings only a day before. In his speech in front of the house before taking the gavel, Mike Johnson set the tone of saying all the right things the right way in public with just the right kind of verbal acuity to make most of it unobjectionable.
Believe what folks’ actions tell you about themselves. We will see if the inexperienced Mike Johnson can scale up and wield the immense potential power that comes with inhabiting the Speaker’s lobby in the House of Representatives. Speaker Johnson still has a thin majority, a still-smarting under the public unity caucus, and a united opponent in Democrats across the aisle. The US Senate isn’t going to bend over backwards to help, and President Biden still holds the White House and veto power should the two halves of our legislative branch actually pass anything. The shutdown looms, as do appropriations fights, Ukraine and Israel aid packages, and dozens of other things. But everything we know about Mike Johnson, and what we have just learned in the last few days, should tell us not to underestimate him.
The folks that have speculated for years now that a Trumpism that could behave better in public and actually engage the levers of power would be a much more formidable force than the Trump chaos circus so far are about to get a real-world test of the theory. That test will be in the form of a Speaker Mike Johnson, sitting in the chair in the front of the People’s House, right under the “In God We Trust” engraving.
Got to watch out for those quiet ones. All the sudden, you look up from going “who’s that” and they are in charge by the time you Google them.