Jim Jordan faces the abyss — but GOP "moderates" can't escape the MAGA vortex

Even if GOP normies can block Jim Jordan (for now), they still have to run with Donald Trump in 2024

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 18, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) speaks briefly to reporters as he departs a House Republican Caucus at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) speaks briefly to reporters as he departs a House Republican Caucus at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Republicans continued their downward spiral into MAGA Land on Tuesday. Yes, in what feels like a minor miracle, they avoided electing Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a toilet swirlie in human skin, as speaker of the House. But they also didn't come close to coalescing behind anyone else, despite Democratic leadership repeatedly offering to strike a deal to drag one of the few remaining zombie moderate Republicans over the line. Worse, Jordan's candidacy is still alive, even if he decided not to go for another vote on Tuesday night after a humiliating first-ballot defeat. (At this writing, another vote the is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday morning.)

It's been two weeks since a small faction of mega-MAGA Republicans, led of course by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, ousted the previous speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. A lot of those same folks, along with others, then blocked Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, basically for not being quite enough of a pro-Trump berserker. Now another group of Republicans, slightly larger than the group that torpedoed McCarthy, has blocked Jordan's ascension, most likely because they're worried about being tied too closely to the MAGA movement during next year's election campaign. Jordan hasn't dropped out yet, probably because, as virtually the only person standing who is nuts enough to want the job, he still has a shot. 

It's easy to see why these rebel Republicans are worried that Speaker Jordan might be an especially bad look. No one in history has embodied the role of a fascist gym teacher more thoroughly than Jordan, a man whose only waking mode is "hectoring." That's why his denials of guilt in the infamous sex abuse scandal at Ohio State are somewhat difficult to believe.

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It's not just that there's considerable evidence against Jordan. It's that his pro-bullying impulses seem to drive him to side reflexively with sexual abusers, as he does with self-proclaimed pussy-grabber Donald Trump. 

And that person, of course, is why even if House Republican manage to vote down Jordan, it will do little to salvage their reputation. Consider the small but meaningful percentage of former Republican voters who have decamped to the Democrats in recent elections, in response to GOP radicalization. No doubt they'll be pleased to see the party deny the speaker's gavel to an out-and-proud MAGA troll. But when Trump wraps up the nomination next year and the entire Republican establishment lines up behind him, those people will mostly continue to hold their noses and vote for Democrats. 

Trump's stranglehold on the party is likely why Jordan still thinks he can browbeat the party into submitting to him. It certainly seems like his only real strategy to win the speaker's seat is intimidation. Jordan recruited Fox News host Sean Hannity to badger reluctant House Republicans, backed up by threats that they'll be villainized on the network if they didn't comply. One Jordan supporter, Rep. Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, made the blackmail explicit. He told the Washington Post he's been calling other GOP members and telling them that Jordan is "the best person to keep conservative media off our backs." 

There's been some minor pushback from House Republicans, such as the one who anonymously griped to Axios that "the bullying tactics need to stop." But we've heard this song and dance before: Republicans complain about Trump over and over, but never for attribution. And it never stops them from coming to heel when their orange master calls.

So Jordan isn't crazy to think he's still got a shot, even after 20 House Republicans voted against him. (Which is one more than voted against Kevin McCarthy on the first ballot, back in January.) Jordan's carefully crafted persona of delusional belligerence is the soul of the modern GOP. His purpose in Congress has always been destructive, not constructive. It's not for nothing that former Speaker John Boehner, a fellow Republican, called him a "legislative terrorist." Jordan's not there to make life better for Americans, not even the people in his district. He's laser-focused on one goal: Annihilating anyone he believes gets in the way of total domination by white Christian conservative men. Which means not only defeating, undermining or kneecapping any and all Democrats, but also any Republicans seen as overly accepting of religious freedom or racial equality. 

Jordan's carefully crafted persona of delusional belligerence is the soul of the modern GOP. It's not for nothing that former Speaker John Boehner, a fellow Republican, called him a "legislative terrorist."

Adam Kinzinger, who was a Republican congressman from Illinois until his opposition to the Big Lie drove him out of the party, explained this on CNN earlier this month: Jordan, he said, "truly believes that the Democrats, or the left, is an enemy of America and he will do anything, even extra-constitutionally, to defeat them."

Kinzinger added that he would classify Jordan "in the camp of Christian nationalist, where he believes that he is truly fighting the dark forces and the Constitution, in some cases, is an impediment."

Former congresswoman Liz Cheney was also blunt about this earlier this month, telling an audience at the University of Minnesota, "Jim Jordan knew more about what Donald Trump had planned for Jan. 6 than any other member of the House of Representatives," accusing Jordan of being "part of the conspiracy." 

As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post pointed out, Jordan has no legislative record to speak of. He "has yet to get a bill signed into law since being elected in 2006," mostly because he rarely bothers to sponsor legislation. Jordan doesn't even pretend to be anything but a human tornado, ripping through the tattered remnants of our democratic system. 

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Most likely, the modest Republican faction that broke away from Jordan on Tuesday hoped to use their "no" votes to portray themselves as moderates or centrists. After all, Jordan is up there with Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene as a leading figure among Republicans who supported Trump's attempted coup that ended in the Capitol insurrection. 

Without question, it's better for Republicans next year if Democrats can't run a bunch of ads about Jordan's sexual abuse scandal, or that feature video clips of Jordan in full MAGA attack mode. As Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post pointed out, the best political option for Republicans at this point would be to join with Democrats in electing an actual moderate Republican as speaker. That might even convince the modest but influential group of never-Trump Republican voters to split the ticket, voting for Joe Biden next year while also backing their "centrist" Republican in Congress. 

But as bizarre as politics has become these days, it's pretty much impossible to imagine that path forward. Republicans in swing districts don't want to be overly associated with MAGA, but they don't want to be called RINOs either. What they don't understand is that there is no Door No. 3. For the MAGA movement, purging the ranks of those perceived as disloyal to the cause is nearly as important as annihilating the Democrats. That's why we can't count Jim Jordan out. Republicans in Congress have years of experience when it comes to squelching their doubts about rising fascism and backing Trump. Sucking it up and voting for Jim Jordan — right now or tomorrow or next week — is basically just more of the same. 

This entire debacle underscores why it's increasingly hard for Republicans to conceal how fully the MAGA movement has consumed their party. Whether Jordan wins or loses, the takeaway is that the GOP is a nihilistic party, hellbent on chaos. If he wins, a bug-eyed right-wing nut becomes the most powerful figure in Congress, third in line for the presidency. But not electing Jordan only reinforces a larger narrative, which is that Republicans are so far gone that the most basic task of a legislative majority — choosing one of your own to be the leader — is beyond their capabilities. Either way, campaign ads for the Democrats next year should be fun. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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