Update on Speaker Mike “God appointed me” Johnson

One day after House Speaker Mike Johnson passed a stopgap funding bill to avoid a government shutdown, right-wing Republicans tanked his spending bill—an opening salvo in the battle for retribution.

What has the MAGA wing of the GOP fuming? It was Democrats who rescued Johnson, providing 209 votes and a majority of the ayes needed to pass the short-term bill. It’s precisely the type of maneuver that landed former Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy in hot water and eventually led to his ouster.

But the MAGA nuts aren’t talking ejection just yet. After all, the House Republican conference flailed for over three weeks trying to find a leader they could agree on. So instead of ousting Johnson, they are planning to make his life a living hell. And of course, the country will be caught in the crossfire of the next GOP civil war.

Their first order of business has already been accomplished. About 20 Republicans voted with Democrats to block a Republican bill that would fund the Commerce and Justice departments from reaching the floor for debate. Beyond exacting revenge, the main sticking point for MAGA Republicans was the funding allotted for the Department of Justice and FBI, because MAGA Republicans are all about defunding the police now for daring to criminally charge Donald Trump.

Going forward, Johnson can expect a lot more retribution votes of this nature from his right flank.

“I think it gets bumpy from here on out. Anything and everything is on the table,” GOP Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee told Politico.

Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina agreed.

“There is a sentiment that if we can’t fight anything, then let’s just hold up everything,” said the Freedom Caucus member, who has spoken with Johnson several times this week.

But Johnson will also have to contend with the 18 Republican moderates who represent districts Biden won in 2020. Given the way the conference is going, they aren’t going to toe the party line on any messaging votes that will put them in jeopardy. Why should they? The MAGA gambit of ousting McCarthy followed by nearly a month of sheer chaos has already jeopardized their reelection chances.

In fact, Politico reports that House GOP moderates are already eyeing a scenario where they break bread with Democrats to pass a series of funding bills as MAGA Republicans seek to jam consideration of any bill.

“It just forces us to work with Democrats — these guys play checkers, they don’t play chess,” GOP Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska said of the MAGA wing.

For now Johnson has gained a bit of breathing room, partly because he’s too new to leadership to be weighed down by bad blood left over from previous battles.

But the storm will come for Johnson eventually—likely early next year as he faces the impending expiration of the stopgap funding bill.

One way or another, the new speaker will forge mortal enemies, whether it’s among the MAGA misfits or the GOP centrists. Johnson will have to choose. McCarthy chose the centrists one too many times and the MAGA wing finally served him his eviction notice.

If Johnson chooses the MAGA wing, the Republican centrists just might let Johnson keep his speakership while forming some sort of alliance with Democrats. And that could get interesting.