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Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to make Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson the new speaker last week, ending a three-week period of GOP feuding and uncertainty that began when Kevin McCarthy was ousted from the job.
Johnson, a little-known member of the House GOP caucus until recently, is deeply religious and staunchly conservative on a range of issues. He has been a consistent proponent of abortion restrictions. He is firmly opposed to same-sex marriage and once published an op-ed arguing that gay sex should be illegal. Johnson has also questioned the science of climate change, supported proposals to cut trillions of dollars from Social Security and Medicare and supported former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
While Johnson is far from the only Republican to hold these views, his stances on many of these issues continue a rightward trend for the GOP caucus. A majority of Americans generally support abortion access and same-sex marriage and want to protect funding for the social safety net.
Why there’s debate
Democrats are trying to use his controversial views to paint the GOP as a party that is out of step with voters and a threat to democracy. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries called Johnson an “extreme right-wing ideologue,” and congressional Democrats have posted a flurry of clips on social media drawing attention to Johnson’s past statements.
Some political analysts say Johnson’s record is a liability for Republicans in next year’s pivotal elections. One pollster in Nevada said Johnson’s views are “voter repellent when it comes to moderate and independent swing voters.”
But other political observers argue Johnson’s soft-spoken demeanor and relative anonymity will mean the average voter won’t even know who he is. There’s also serious uncertainty about how long Johnson will be able to hold on to the speakership and what kind of legislation might get passed during his tenure.
Johnson said his “first priority” in his new role is to reach a deal to avoid a government shutdown, which will happen if Congress fails to pass a new budget by mid-November, but doing so will mean uniting his fractured caucus around a plan that Senate Democrats and President Biden will also support. At the same time, he will also have to navigate a heated partisan debate over additional military funding for Ukraine and Israel.
Choosing Johnson will push moderate conservatives even further away from the GOP
“It is as though they are trying to force moderates, ‘normies,’ ordinary sensible people ... to either stay on the sidelines or support Democrats. Those estranged conservatives and would-be Republicans have to make some difficult decisions about how to oppose their (once and future?) party: working within it, working with independent groups, or working with Democrats.” — Kevin D. Williamson, Dispatch
The average American doesn’t know enough about him to care
“Demonizing Johnson is the Democrats’ hope and intention, at least. There’s no guarantee it will work: It could take years before Johnson, who is largely unknown, builds any name recognition.” — Charlie Mahtesian, Politico
Johnson’s easygoing demeanor makes him hard to demonize
“Despite this conservative record, he’s no media-attention obsessed flame-thrower, and is viewed by even his moderate GOP colleagues as a trustworthy, low-profile, and genuinely easygoing member.” — Audrey Fahlberg, National Review
Johnson is on the wrong side of the issues that voters care most about right now
“In the 2022 midterm elections, two issues — abortion rights and democracy protection — mobilized many voters to elect more Democrats and far fewer Republicans than both parties expected. ... Look for Democrats to make MAGA Mike an albatross around House Republicans in swing districts.” — Jackie Calmes, Los Angeles Times
He is savvy enough to deliver some key political wins for the GOP
“It’s tempting to see the last month of Washington drama as not much more than an own goal for Republicans. But Johnson’s rock-ribbed, if bland, conservatism might give him some space for some prudential deal-making and strengthen the GOP’s hand at the negotiating table. If so, many Republicans will feel like replacing McCarthy was a gamble that paid off.” — Patrick T. Brown, CNN
He’ll be judged on his ability to curb chaos in Congress, not his political views
“A lot of the early reporting has stressed Johnson’s extremely conservative policy preferences, as well as his role in supporting Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. What matters much more, however, is whether he has the skill set needed for the job he just won.” — Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg
Voters will rally to protect LGBTQ people
“Johnson’s views on the dignity of LGBTQ Americans could not be more out of step with the American public. ... No matter what happens in the dysfunctional Republican House caucus, Americans continue to express strong support for LGBTQ rights.” — Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, MSNBC
If voters ever learn about Johnson’s economic agenda, it will be devastating for the GOP
“Mike Johnson is on record advocating policies on retirement, health care and other areas I don’t have space to get into, like food stamps, that would basically end American society as we know it. ... I think it’s safe to say that these proposals would be hugely unpopular — if voters knew about them. But will they?” — Paul Krugman, New York Times
If Johnson is running the House in 2024, the will of the voters may not matter
“Would a GOP-controlled House certify a Democratic victory in the 2024 presidential election? With Johnson in charge, that may have grown less likely — and that has ominous implications for the state of American democracy.” — Andrew Prokop, Vox