October 05, 2023
Digging into Jim Jordan’s candidacy
We’re going to dig in this morning to House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) bid for speaker. We scooped his entrance into the race yesterday on our text platform and later on X, formerly known as Twitter.
To be clear, we’re skeptical that either Jordan or his main rival, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, can garner the 218 votes necessary to become speaker. That doesn’t mean they won’t; it just means it’ll be very difficult. We also think that the speaker election could stretch beyond next Wednesday’s current deadline.
Let’s start with this: We’ve all covered the 59-year-old Jordan for a long time, dating back to his days as former Speaker John Boehner’s chief tormentor. Jake spent time with him at home in Urbana, Ohio, for “The Hill to Die On.”
Jordan is a walking contradiction. He’s an old-school populist who’s spent decades in government. He went to law school but never took the bar exam. He comes across as straightforward and direct, yet he’s also an extremely sophisticated pol.
Jordan’s theory of governance is simple: he hates losing and thinks Republicans have been feckless for decades, dating back to 2006 and the Bush era, when he first won a House seat. Jordan’s motto — and the title of his book — is “Do What You Said You Would Do.” In other words, don’t campaign in poetry and govern in prose.
Most importantly, Jordan’s role has evolved from being an outsider to that of a very prominent insider. He went from blocking Kevin McCarthy getting the speaker’s gavel to being his most important ally.
It’s also worth noting that as chair of both the Judiciary Committee and Weaponization subcommittee, Jordan already controls millions of dollars in panel budgets while having lots of staff and subpoena power. Jordan is the most powerful House chair in decades, mainly because McCarthy needed his support.
Strengths: Say what you want about Jordan, but he has a relentless focus on the message du jour — similar to Scalise. For decades, the House Republican Conference has taken to politicians who are good on TV. Jordan is one of those members, at least to the right. And he’s popular with his GOP colleagues.
On policy, Jordan is in line with the party base and the majority of the House Republican Conference. It went unnoticed by many, but Jordan voted recently against both the $300 million in new aid for Ukraine and the continuing resolution. Scalise voted for both.
Yet when it mattered to the leadership — meaning McCarthy — Jordan has been there. H.R. 2, the House GOP’s border security bill, originated largely out of Jordan’s committee. He’s taking the lead on FISA reauthorization, including the fight over Section 702. Jordan helped shape this year’s Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill. And Jordan had a big role in the REINS Act.
Jordan has a huge national profile due to his attacks on President Joe Biden and support for former President Donald Trump. The Ohio Republican raised nearly $2.9 million through June 30 this year, and had $7.9 million in cash on hand. Most of this is through direct mail or online appeals. Two-thirds of the donations to Jordan are unitemized contributions of $200 or less. Yes, the overall total is peanuts compared to McCarthy. But Jordan knows what’s going on with the GOP base, and with that comes small-dollar contributions.
Weaknesses: We can’t tell you how many moderates say they simply can’t vote for Jordan. He’s easily demonizable and often just dishes out pro-Trump talking points. While that may play back home in red Ohio, it doesn’t fly in swing districts.
Jordan’s biggest strength with the right is his biggest weakness when it comes to governing. He’s displayed no willingness nor interest in compromise. But when you’re speaker in a divided government, you have to show some bend. Also, Jordan has no real relationships with Democrats.
Remember — and we do because we chronicled it in our book — Jordan was one of the architects of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. For 35 days in 2018-2019, Trump shut down part of the government in a quixotic attempt to get his border wall approved. Jordan urged this course of action. Of course, it wasn’t successful and Trump eventually caved, having won nothing from Democrats.
Then there’s the Ohio State University sex scandal. Jordan, a national champion wrestler, was an assistant coach at OSU from 1987 to 1995. An OSU doctor had been molesting student athletes for decades, and Jordan was allegedly told about some of these incidents. Jordan has adamantly denied any knowledge of the abuse.
Opportunities: Here’s the biggest upside to Jordan — he’s a break from the status quo. Jordan has zero leadership baggage. We’re in a period when anything related to the current GOP leadership structure is considered toxic by much of the right. Jordan represents a clean break from that.
There are some in the House Freedom Caucus who don’t trust Jordan. That’s because the HFC has changed so much since Jordan, Mark Meadows, Mick Mulvaney and Ron DeSantis founded it back in 2015. Most people in the House understand it’s grown a bit too unwieldy, although Jordan can still speak the HFC’s language.
Threats: Jordan, as we noted, has a massive staff operation. But he’s never run a real leadership race before. Scalise’s team could end up swamping Jordan. The third floor — where Scalise works — has a lot of skill and a lot of leadership know-how. Jordan doesn’t.
One other dynamic: Scalise has chits. Lots of them. Maybe not as many as McCarthy — but lots. Scalise will be able to call them in, and Jordan won’t.
— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
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