Speaker Jim Jordan Is Looking More Plausible By the Hour

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Less than a year ago, his colleagues had to restrain Rep. Mike Rogers as his temper flared and he lunged at Rep. Matt Gaetz on the House floor a little ahead of midnight on the 14th round of failed balloting to pick a new Speaker. Rogers had heard enough from Gaetz, a leader of the effort to keep Kevin McCarthy’s hands off the gavel, and Rogers wanted to put an end to a four-day spectacle that laid bare just how unmanageable the Republican conference had become. Gaetz finally relented, making McCarthy Speaker with the barest of majorities.

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But for a long stretch of time that evening, Gaetz held all the power on the House floor as the C-SPAN cameras were rolling. It was precisely that kind of Gaetzian chutzpah that Rogers, a McCarthy ally, feared would become the norm, so he threatened the Florida lawmaker with a walloping that never came.

Fast forward to today, when Rogers’ fears have been proven correct. Gaetz laid in wait most of the year before leading the uprising that booted McCarthy from the job on Oct. 3 with no obvious successor in waiting. An initial attempt to install Rep. Steve Scalise in the role failed, and the Louisiana Republican bowed out. It left establishment-minded Republicans smarting and looking nervously at a bid from Rep. Jim Jordan, a pugilistic partisan. Rogers on Friday told reporters at the Capitol that under no circumstances could he support Jordan, whom Rogers saw as a D.O.A. contender. Rogers went so far as to meet with Democrats to see what concessions Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries would need to start the ball rolling toward a coalition government that didn’t include Jordan anywhere near leadership. For a short flash, it looked like Rogers, the chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, would emerge as the leader within his party of anti-Jordan resistance, making Jordan’s rise as short as Rogers’ temper.

But it appears Rogers has been swayed. He announced on Monday his support for Jordan, noting that Jordan had expressed to him an openness to passing a Farm Bill and a defense spending measure, two Rogers priorities. Jordan, a former Ohio State wrestling coach and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee that’s leading the impeachment efforts against President Joe Biden, also snagged the surprise backing of former holdouts Michael Burgess of Texas and Ken Calvert of California, both senior GOP lawmakers on their committees. Other former “hell no” holdouts like Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri also managed to get to yes by Monday.

Maybe—and it’s a big maybe—Jordan’s bid for House Speaker could get across the finish line after all. Not by finesse, mind you, but by threat. After all, that’s Jordan’s M.O.

He and allies spent the weekend calling through skeptics with a blend of sincere curiosity followed up with stern caution. What took McCarthy two months of behind-the-scenes wrangling and 15 votes on the floor, Jordan is trying to cobble together in mere days with little to trade but vague promises not to shiv colleagues and explicit threats that opposing him will not be worth the vote. As one close Jordan ally put it, “he doesn’t have time for games or finesse.” His isn’t as much a game of persuasion as browbeating. His defenders aren’t wrong when they argue that Jordan wouldn’t be acting this way if his tactics don’t work.

At the moment, Jordan remains short of the 217 votes needed to install him, something even his closest allies concede. The House majority is a delicate and perilous thing, and Jordan as the face of the party isn’t exactly one that wins over the swing voters in suburbs, in book clubs, or PTA meetings. Moderates rightly worry that a partisan zealot could spoil their standing with voters who just want Washington to get out of the way. Moderates are still searching for an alternative.

Even so, Jordan plans to bring his promotion to a full vote on Tuesday. The events will force House Republicans to go on the record with their position on a Speaker Jordan. That implicit threat is part of Jordan’s calculation, one meant to bully holdouts into falling in line; failing to support House Republicans’ endorsed candidate for the top job could split them from not just their colleagues but also donors. It could also be the making of a tangible enemies list enshrined in the Congressional Record. While major donors don’t love Jordan or his Freedom Caucus-style tactics, they are in urgent pursuit of something passing for functionality and normalcy. 

Even among the reluctant, there is a begrudging acceptance that, at some point, someone has to wield the Speaker’s gavel. Without anyone in the chair, the House simply cannot do anything more than flick the light switches or refill the water coolers. A standstill House doesn’t seem like that big of a deal for a few days, but it’s approaching the two-week mark, and the legislative paralysis has meant zero meaningful outlays from Washington in the wake of spiraling tumult in the Middle East.

There are plenty of reasons to stay skeptical of Jordan’s ability to rise to Speaker, and then hold onto the position. For one, he faces the same mathematical challenge to reach the magic number of votes to win the job in a chamber with almost zero margin of error. For another, the rule as it stands allows any lone member of the House to call for a vote of no confidence. With 55 Republicans voting against Jordan during Friday’s closed-door conference meeting, there is no shortage of peril ahead of him.

Still, every successful Speakership comes with an incumbent level of risk. During an era when Trumpist impulses and MAGA fantasy double as some version of a governing philosophy, that appetite for risk only increases, and Jordan’s bid reflects that. A Jordan-era House could be one governed with a blend of grievance and paranoia, but one that could spark the far-right elements of the GOP in ways that never quite took hold during McCarthy, Paul Ryan, or John Boehner. The Republican Party has been looking for someone who could match the GOP’s fringiest elements, and Jordan certainly seems primed to service them. He’s still short on votes, but folks like Rogers linking hands—or at least dropping their stiff arms—signals that the party may well be coming to accept the fate ahead, however fleeting it may be.

This article is part of The D.C. Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox.

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