This is a relatively low-attention news story, but we think it actually reveals a great deal. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) endorsed Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) in this year's U.S. Senate race in Montana, even though Rosendale isn't an official candidate yet (he's expected to become one over the weekend). Yesterday, however, Johnson reversed course and said that he's not endorsing Rosendale and that, in fact, he never endorsed Rosendale.
This is an unbelievably sloppy unforced error. It is no secret that Rosendale is not only a firebrand, but that he already lost a Senate race to Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in 2018. We've written it at least three or four times, and we are hardly as dialed in as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. And yet, Johnson made the endorsement (despite his claims to the contrary). Then, he very publicly reversed course, undoubtedly due to blowback and arm-twisting behind the scenes.
We would suggest this speaks to two things, both of them also evident in this week's failed House votes on impeaching Alejandro Mayorkas and on Israel funding. The first is that Johnson is a pretty mediocre politician. Yes, he got himself elected, which is something, but being Speaker means you're one of the biggest fish in the biggest pond out there. And he's clearly not up to it. When Nancy Pelosi, or Paul Ryan, or John Boehner were in the big chair, they did not come within a country mile of endorsing a candidate until they were 100% sure. But once they were, they took the plunge and did not look back. For Johnson to flip-flop, so publicly and so rapidly, makes him look weak and indecisive.
More importantly, the story is also a reminder of how tenuous Johnson's grip on power really is. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pointed out yesterday, Johnson wasn't the Republicans' "first-choice speaker, not their second-choice speaker, not their third-choice speaker." He does not have the résumé or the donor/power base to justify being speaker. And he's got caucus members who are impossible to please, and who are always willing to consider firing him at the drop of a hat. These shadows will always loom over him, for however long he holds the gavel.
Consequently, Johnson does not lead, he just runs around trying to keep the various Republican factions happy, whether it's with silly impeachments or by de-endorsing Matt Rosendale. It's true, sometimes a leader has to lead from behind. But most of the time, they have to lead from the front, as Pelosi did in particularly memorable fashion. Johnson can't do it, because he doesn't have the skills, and he doesn't have the political capital.
Not surprisingly, the griping from Johnson's House colleagues is in full effect right now. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) tweeted that the House has turned into an "unmitigated disaster" since Kevin McCarthy was forced out. Numerous other Republicans complained about the embarrassing failed votes this week. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) spoke of a "lack of leadership." Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) drew the same parallel as we did: "He needs to count votes before he comes to the floor. This message of not impeaching Mayorkas sent a wrong message. I think you need to make sure. And as bad as Pelosi was, she knew her votes before it took place."
Even some high-profile non-politicians are taking shots at Johnson. Recently, the Speaker told a group of supporters that he was praying, and that he heard the voice of God in his head, telling him that he was going to be a new Moses. Father James Martin, who is a pretty big mover and shaker in the Vatican, found that presumptuous, it would seem. The padre remarked: "Not everything that pops into your head during prayer is from God."
In short, our prediction that Johnson would not last the year is looking pretty good right now. Certainly better than the Speaker's chances of parting the Red Sea. (Z)