early and often

Johnson Urges GOP to Save Craziness for After the Election

Ghost Army Ceremony
Mike Johnson has a plan for global domination. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The ongoing tension between MAGA extremists and what passes for a governing wing of the House Republican Conference has now been crystalized by a standoff between House Speaker Mike Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Greene. MTG is threatening to give Johnson the Kevin McCarthy treatment (a motion to vacate the chair, which brought down MTG’s friend McCarthy last fall) if he brings forward a bill containing the aid to Ukraine that Joe Biden, most Democrats, and about half of congressional Republicans appear to want. There are many dimensions to this battle, particularly when you ponder Donald Trump’s potential intervention in the dispute, since both Johnson and Greene are very much Trump vassals. But more broadly, the two lawmakers are partaking in an eternal GOP debate: Is it better to pursue the (sometimes wacky) desires of the party’s base or to delay those dreams and maximize swing-voter appeal?

Johnson made his side of the argument gently but clearly in an interview with Fox News’ Trey Gowdy, as reported by The Hill:

Heading into that tough debate, the Speaker took a shot of his own at Greene, warning that internal clashes between Republicans will only empower Democrats ahead of high-stakes elections when both chambers are up for grabs.

“I think all of my other Republican colleagues recognize this as a distraction from our mission,” Johnson told Gowdy. “The mission is to save the republic. And the only way we can do that is if we grow the House majority, win the Senate and win the White House. So we don’t need any dissension right now.”

To the MTGs of the world, the whole purpose of political power is to agitate the air on behalf of extremist ideology, and there’s no time like the present for that sort of First Amendment exercise. Furthermore, Greene would almost certainly maintain that wacky right-wing positions on the issues of the day are precisely how you build an enduring electoral coalition, since it’s what the silent majority secretly craves. But putting those sentiments aside, you cannot really weigh the merits of Johnson’s plea for a delay of ideological gratification without a look at the benefits of a partisan trifecta (control of the White House and both congressional chambers), which he thinks “dissension” might threaten.

Most obviously, a federal government held entirely by Republicans would eliminate much of the need for all those maddening negotiations with Democrats that Johnson, like McCarthy, felt required to undertake. Yes, so long as the Senate filibuster remains you’d have to deal with a Senate Democratic minority on many kinds of legislation. But a trifecta also gives the party holding it the opportunity to bypass the filibuster and all sorts of potential congressional obstacles via the infamous budget-reconciliation procedure, in which any legislation with a budgetary impact can (in theory) be enacted by a simple majority in each House. It’s how Obamacare was enacted, and how it was very nearly repealed when Republicans gained a trifecta after the 2016 elections. Republicans did succeed in passing Trump’s proposed package of tax cuts via reconciliation before they lost control of the House.

So if like both Johnson and MTG you would prefer massively reduced funding levels for all sorts of liberal domestic programs, with conservative policies encumbering what’s left, a trifecta in November would be great news. It’s true that Trump already has extremely ambitious and dangerous plans for a second term that may be initiated by executive order instead of legislation. But to the extent he can secure congressional authorization for the semi-authoritarian state he seems to want, the federal courts may become less of an obstacle, and the new administration would not have to worry about any obstruction of MAGA plans by congressional Democrats, either.

Johnson can’t come right out and say that continued chaos in his own conference might cost Trump and/or Senate Republicans votes, since the conceit of the right-wing House rebels is that they are the true MAGA loyalists by definition. But it’s true that control of the White House is what’s all-important to the GOP in November, and the second most important goal is control of the Senate. It’s the upper chamber that could confirm Trump’s executive and judicial nominees without fear of a filibuster. All in all, a trifecta would be the ideal lever to pull off a radical MAGA counter-revolution with a relative minimum of open defiance to the U.S. Constitution and the messy public disturbances that might entail. Trump would be smart to remind MTG that global domination awaits if Republicans can just play their assigned roles in his restoration drama.

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Johnson Urges GOP to Save Craziness for After the Election