On Wednesday, House Republicans handed Democrats what looks like a gift by voting in Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) Speaker of the House.
“[I]f Democrats could design in a lab the perfect candidate to run against,” wrote Dan Pfeiffer, former President Barack Obama’s political and communications guru, “That person would look a lot like Mike Johnson.”
Here are five reasons to support that claim. (But don’t be fooled; the last one contains even more.)
1. Independents will resist Johnson’s anti-abortion position, the most powerful election driver in the country.
As a June NPR headline put it, “[T]he Dobbs Decision . . . changed the political landscape.” We saw it in Justice Janet Protasciewicz’s “seismic” victory in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election in April. We’ve seen it in the Democrats’ remarkable winning streak in special elections all year.
So in the wake of those victories, what do Republicans do? They elect as their House leader a man with “a spotless history” of voting against reproductive freedom, “earning an ‘A+’ rating from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.”
In 2010, as a lawyer for the anti-abortion crusading Alliance Defense Fund years before his 2016 election to Congress, he worked overtime to shutter a Baton Rouge abortion clinic.
Watch for the 30-second ads on that in every competitive 2024 congressional race in the country.
2. Johnson was the leader of House election deniers, the kind of Republican who cost the GOP virtually every competitive 2022 election in the country.
Immediately after the 2022 midterms, a Washington Post analysis drew this conclusion: “[T]he election-denier creed was a stone-cold loser in swing areas.”
Think Kari Lake and Blake Masters, the defeated Republican gubernatorial and Senate candidates in battleground Arizona.
Johnson was more than just any old proponent of Trump’s “Big Lie.” In October 2022, the New York Times dubbed Johnson “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections” on January 6, 2021.
Weeks after the election, he amplified the debunked conspiracy theory that Dominion Voting Systems machines switched votes from Trump to Biden using a program that Hugo Chavez had demanded.
But wait, there’s more. Johnson was the House champion, enlisting his colleagues to sign onto disgraced and indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legally bogus December 2020 claim that his state had standing in the Supreme Court to overturn the elections in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona.
His tweet at the time boasted of his central role and stated: “We believe this suit . . . merits full & careful consideration by SCOTUS.”
The Court took all of three days to dismiss it. Mike Johnson may not be quite as good a constitutional lawyer as he thinks he is.
3. All 18 Biden-district Republican representatives will be tagged with the MAGA brand of Johnson’s speakership.
Within Republicans’ scant five-vote majority are 18 representatives who won in competitive districts in 2022, districts that President Biden won in 2020. Democrats began mounting pressure against them ahead of the speakership votes.
All 18 voted for Johnson. Axios reported Wednesday that “Democrats are already looking to newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson as a potential asset to damage Republicans in swing districts as the 2024 election approaches.”
Johnson is hardly their only asset. But “branding” the 18 with the man whom Dan Pfeiffer calls “the perfect avatar of MAGA extremism as the face of House Republicans” — is a big one.
4. Johnson puts a 2025 Republican House majority at risk because he is a novice at national fundraising.
A key role of Speakers is fundraising for their colleagues. Though no Nancy Pelosi, among House Republicans, “Nobody can raise money like [McCarthy],” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) told the Associated Press on October 5.
McCarthy reportedly raised $13.7 million as of September 30. Johnson raised $548,000. He “doesn’t have any real record of an ability to crisscross the country fundraising for members,” a Democratic strategist told Axios on Wednesday.
Johnson will have help, for sure. But fundraising is a relationship business, and it takes time to build the personal connections that matter.
5. Johnson is a rookie leader, bound to make mistakes on these and other issues.
Johnson was elected with Trump in 2016, and has never been a committee chair or held any “top 5” leadership posts in the Republican conference.
Rookie leaders make mistakes, especially those without a roadmap. Tripwires could get crossed anywhere.
Here are a few that he could slip over, given his record.
- Johnson may have a hard time avoiding a shutdown, something for which Americans would blame Republicans two-to-one per recent polling. Bloomberg has reported that Johnson is working with MAGA hardliners on a plan to extend funding beyond November 17, the current deadline. But herding the House GOP’s feral cats will make for what Politico calls “a nightmare.”
- Johnson has voted against background checks and supports national legislation to permit the carrying of concealed firearms.
- Johnson is a vehement foe of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. He once wrote of the need to criminalize gay sex. He’s aligned himself with so-called “conversion therapy.” Last year, CNN reports, he “introduced a bill that some describe as a national version of what critics have called Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.”
- Johnson opposes women’s equality. He recently voted “No” on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women’s Act.
- Johnson opposes economic and military aid to Ukraine. He’s recently voted to cut funding, while a September poll shows that six in 10 Americans support it.
- He has advocated for cutting Social Security.
- Johnson supported McCarthy’s call to initiate an impeachment inquiry without a vote—something most Americans don’t support.
- Then there’s always something we can’t predict.
Beyond Republican fatigue with Speakership battles in choosing Johnson is a larger force in his elevation—Trumpism.
“Jim Jordan in a sport coat,” was the perfect soundbite from Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Viet Shelton. Trump himself gave Johnson his full-throated endorsement, saying he “will make a great Speaker, and we were very happy to have helped.”
Translation: Trump will be pulling the strings, doing everything he can through the House to hurt Biden, no matter the damage to the country, and that will cost Republicans in 2024.
There will be short-term damage for sure. But with politics and the country’s future well-being, as with endurance athletes at the start of their training, short-term pain can yield to long-term advantage if one stays the course and has patience.
Which brings us back to Dan Pfeiffer and the headline on his Message Box piece Wednesday about how Johnson enhances the vulnerability for the GOP’s 2024 prospects with the independent voters who turn elections.
As the party’s No. 2 face after Trump, Johnson represents, the headline reads, “Everything Voters Hate about the GOP.”