Jim Jordan’s Dilemma Is What Happens When Bullying Backfires

Jim Jordan’s Dilemma Is What Happens When Bullying Backfires

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Rep. Jim Jordan seemed to be in a somewhat surprised self-pitying mood Wednesday as he came off a second failed attempt at seizing the House Speaker’s gavel. His campaign for the open position, heavy on threats, bullying, and badgering, was clearly not paying the dividends he had hoped. Over 24 hours, Jordan had lost more supporters than he gained. And it left Jordan, a loud-and-proud troublemaker from Ohio, with a chip on his shoulder and, perhaps more dangerous, losing ground

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“Speaker McCarthy, he had a two-month runway from when he got the conference nomination and when we got to that first week in January, so we’re right where he was in his numbers,” Jordan told reporters moments after it was clear his second round of balloting would leave him for now stuck in Rayburn, and not relocating to the Speaker’s Office. 

What Jordan missed, however, was that Kevin McCarthy had been working for years to secure the backing of his conference and then the Speakership, coming up through the ranks of leadership and putting in the work of earning chits and trading favors. Jordan, by contrast, was trying to snag the top job in the wake of a snap vote of no confidence that sprang into motion earlier this month without a second thought about what came next. McCarthy dangled baubles; Jordan menaced with threats delivered through allies. And no one—especially not members of Congress who control their fiefdoms of roughly 700,000 constituents—likes a bully.

Jordan on Tuesday reached 200 votes in favor of his promotion, while a full 20 rejected him. On Wednesday, his backers totaled 199 and his objectors rose to 22. (With everyone voting, Jordan can spare just four votes.) His hardcore resisters seemed to double down, and a pathway to a Speaker Jordan appeared narrowing by the hour. Plans for a third ballot slipped to Thursday as Jordan’s allies started to concede that their pressure campaign over the weekend may have backfired bigly. 

Nevertheless, Jordan refused to sound defeated: “We got 200 votes. You know, we picked up some today, a couple dropped off but they voted for me before, I think they can come back again.”

But talk alone isn’t going to be enough with some members. The holdouts are skittish about putting Jordan as the face of the Republican Party heading into a dicey campaign season. His appeal is strong, but limited to a very narrow slice of the GOP. And his personality is one that can grate even friends, sparing few words for pleasantries and looking beyond himself infrequently. And Jordan is far from a masterful legislator, having passed exactly zero bills during his nine terms in Washington. The threats of primary challengers and mean tweets proved his critics correct when they argued he is a petty man who is not to be trusted. “Threats and intimidation tactics will not change my principles and values,” Rep. Jen A. Kiggans wrote, noting she had already voted twice against Jordan and his approach to governing by browbeating. Added Rep. Kay Granger: “Intimidation and threats will not change my position.”

Then there is Jordan’s outsized role in undermining our democracy ahead of and on Jan. 6, 2021. As early as November of 2020, Jordan was consulting with White House aides and allies for ways to set aside the electoral results. He urged Trump supporters to flood Washington, and led a Jan. 2 conference call about ways to derail what should have been a routine vote in Congress to accept the results. On Jan. 5, he texted the top White House aide with advice on how Vice President Mike Pence should maneuver the following day. And on Jan. 6, he spoke with Trump before the President riled up a crowd that would later march on the Capitol. When it came time to certify the results that evening, Jordan joined 146 other Republicans in rejecting the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. In effect, Jordan was trying to bully his colleagues into forgetting Election Day had even happened. Jordan would later defy a subpoena to testify to the House committee investigating Jan. 6. And, in the current House GOP, that is not as disqualifying as you’d think, although many of Jordan’s colleagues are now arguing otherwise.

Ultimately, Republicans need to find someone who can cobble together 217 supporters. Through the 17 ballots this year—a mind-blowing number and soul-crushing reminder that nothing with the House GOP can be easy—Democrats have stuck behind Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. They are not coming to the rescue of any Republican, although some are growing less firm in that position.

So, after two weeks of a leaderless House, it will remain so for another day while Republicans try to work it out amongst themselves. The growing sense is that Jordan had his two votes and will get a third come Thursday. But as the revolt against him is shifting from backroom grumbles to open posts on social media, it doesn’t stretch the imagination to see another dozen or more Republicans joining those who have already voted against him. Yet no one else from within their ranks—or beyond—appears able to cobble together a big enough coalition. Republicans want a leader, but not at the cost of empowering a bully or an insurrectionist.

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