Jim Jordan's curious rise: A tale of how Christian nationalism consumed the GOP

It's not really about Jesus, so much as a belief that only members of their lily white tribe are "real" Americans

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 19, 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)

To most ordinary people, the sneering visage of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, brings many words to mind: "Jackass." "Bully." "Sexual abuse apologist." "Clownshow."

But when it comes to those who have backed his run for Speaker of the House, the MAGA mind seizes upon their alleged Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

"If Jim Jordan can't get through, Jesus can't," Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont. told Fox News on Tuesday. Zinke loves comparing the former assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State to the Prince of Peace. He used the same line with Newsmax

Similarly, Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., told reporters last week, "You could put Jesus Christ up for speaker of the House and he still wouldn’t get 217." Inevitably, this mentality led prayer chatter to fuse with the unintentionally campy cheerleading from Jordan supporters. 

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Jesus is an odd figure to invoke when talking about Jim Jordan, who looks at all times like he's ready to give someone a wedgie. But it makes a dark sense within the topsy-turvy world of MAGA politics, and not just because of the hope they can revive Jordan's speakership from the dead. As former Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois keeps patiently explaining to the press, Jordan is a full-blown "Christian nationalist' who imagines "he is truly fighting the dark forces."

Jordan lost on the second ballot on Wednesday, but tellingly, the vast majority of Republicans backed him, even though there were significant signs going in that this is a lost cause. Jordan continues to think, with not insubstantial reasons, he can strongarm the holdouts into backing him.

Jesus is an odd figure to invoke when talking about Jim Jordan, who looks at all times like he's ready to give someone a wedgie.

The holdouts are getting most attention, but the real story here is how most Republicans have come to support Jordan, a proud bully who does not care about legislation, only tearing down Democrats through any means necessary. Jordan's rise to this be even a plausible Speaker isn't just another piece of proof that the GOP has been taken over by Christian nationalists. It also tells us quite a bit about what Christian nationalism is — and how, despite the name, it has little to do with sincere belief in God or in the teachings of Jesus Christ. 

Because so many conservatives chatter incessantly about prayer, the Bible, and Jesus, there's a tendency in the Beltway press to treat religion as the foundation that all other right wing beliefs are built on. But that reading is backwards. In reality, faith is the window dressing draped around an ideology of hate, meant to pretty up an ugly worldview. 

Polling data bears this out. In February, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) put out a survey showing that white evangelicals in the U.S. are defined more by the "white" part than any coherent faith tradition. More than two-thirds of white evangelicals signed off on the concept of Christian nationalism, which is a belief, as PRRI president Robert Jones explained, "that America is destined to be a promised land for European Christians." "Christian," then, is less about a set of religious beliefs and more an ethnic, tribalistic marker. 

This is why the vast majority of white evangelicals reject a very basic teaching of Jesus: "I was the stranger and you welcomed me." More than 90% of white evangelicals, for instance, want to make it much harder for people to immigrate to the U.S. Most Christian nationalists also believe immigrants are "invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background" and want restrictions on immigration meant to exclude people of a different race or ethnic background than themselves. Unsurprisingly, Christian nationalists tend to be very sexist, with 7 out of 10 agreeing that a woman should "submit" to her husband. 

Race and gender matter a lot to Christian nationalists. What doesn't matter so much, however, is God. About 40% of self-proclaimed "evangelicals" go to church once a year or less. 

Considering how Americans tend to exagerrate how often they go to church, odds are high that the percentage of evangelicals who never darken a church door is even higher than that. 

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Donald Trump, of course, understood this perfectly. His efforts to feign Christian belief are laughable, and there are endless stories of how he makes fun of people who actually believe that Jesus stuff. None of this matters to his fiercely loyal evangelical base, because it is not and was never about religion for them. Trump is their hero because he agrees that white conservatives are the only "real" Americans and that everyone else should be a second class citizen or be kicked out entirely. 

Jordan is also the perfect avatar for this kind of "Christianity." He wishes not only to ban abortion, but has fought to prevent women from getting birth control. He opposes same-sex marriage and securing the voting rights of Americans regardless of race. And, of course, he's an election denier who not only backs the Big Lie, but, according to former Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, was an instrumental player in Trump's attempted coup. 

When Jordan took grief for voting against a bill that would protect voting rights, especially of Black Americans, he sniped, "Only Americans should vote in American elections." He defended this claim by pretending to be worried about non-citizens voting in elections. But of course, nothing about the legislation he objected to would allow non-citizens to vote. Instead, his comment should be understood in the same light as Trump's Big Lie: As a way to signal a belief that non-white people are not legitimate citizens, without coming right out and saying it. 

In this, Jordan reflects the majority view of the GOP base, as Aaron Blake of the Washington Post wrote in an analysis. "[P]olls show nearly 7 in 10 Republicans subscribe to the view that President Biden’s win wasn’t legitimate," Blake writes. It would be a mistake to read such data too literally. Most of these people don't actually believe that the election was stolen through some vast conspiracy and, in fact, most can't even articulate what they think the evidence supposedly is.

The Big Lie is a front for the real belief, which is that most Joe Biden voters shoudn't have had the right to vote to begin with, that their skin color or religious identity or sexual orientation or political leanings disqualify them from being "real" Americans. That's why the Big Lie is impervious to factual correction. Proof the election wasn't stolen doesn't matter, because what they're mad about is that people they hate legally voted.

Jordan, like Trump, is popular on the right because, not despite, of his inability to even playact the part of the loving Christian. He's a loudmouthed bully who believes victory can only be gained through crushing the opposition. He cannot cooperate with Democrats, because that would mean conceding that they have a right to exist. Jordan's candidacy isn't dead yet, even though he's both unqualified and likely has been involved in efforts to overthrow democray. That shows that his a viewpoint that has taken over the Republican party. Whatever noises some may make about tolerance and moderation to swing voters, the GOP has fully morphed into a Christian nationalist party that rejects the right of most of us to even call ourselves "Americans."

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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Christian Nationalism Commentary Gop House Freedom Caucus House Of Representatives Jim Jordan Maga