Conservative firebrand Jim Jordan is running for speaker of the House.
Three months ago, that announcement, which Jordan made official Thursday morning, wouldn’t have surprised a single, solitary soul in Washington. After all, Jordan, a past chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and a regular, jacket-less cable TV presence, is someone who has not made secret of his considerable ambitions.
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But the last month has seen Jordan embroiled in a growing controversy surrounding widespread sexual abuse allegations against Ohio State athletics doctor Richard Strauss. Several former OSU wrestlers have come forward to say that Jordan, who served as an assistant wrestling coach from 1987 to 1995, knew about the abuse. Jordan has totally denied any knowledge of it, and received the support of a number of former OSU wrestling coaches. Jordan acknowledged he has been interviewed by the outside group hired by Ohio State to look into the allegations.
Given all of that, it came as something of a surprise that Jordan decided that now was the time to announce his plan to run for the top spot being vacated by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan at the end of this Congress.
So why did Jordan do it? Here are a few theories:
Jordan has been regarded as a potential leader – particularly among conservatives in Congress – almost since the moment he came to Congress in 2006. Within five years, Jordan was elected as the chairman of the Republican Study Committee – the conservative wing of the Republican conference in the House. Four years after that, Jordan was the founding chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, an even more select group of conservatives who have served as a fly in the ointment of the Republican leadership over the past 3+ years. There’s not a lot of other places for Jordan to go except for the speakership. And, not running this time could turn Jordan into the boy who cried wolf in the eyes of his colleagues.
Jordan isn’t the shy and retiring type. Given that, he’s not likely to take on a low profile while he fights back against the allegations that he was in the know about Strauss’ abominable behavior. It’s the most Jordan move possible to announce he’s running for speaker amid all of this controversy. In fact; it’s a way of him showing that he’s not letting what he considers to be unfounded allegations to derail him. That not only will he stay in Congress but he will run for the top job. That’s how little these charges have affected him – or so he wants you to believe.
Since its formation in January 2015, the Freedom Caucus has shown a remarkable ability to ensure its voting bloc comprises the winning (or losing) margin for House Republicans’ priorities. Time and time again, Jordan and his fellow Freedom Caucusers made then Speaker John Boehner’s legislative life a living hell. Boehner quit as speaker at least in part due to Jordan’s willingness to hold legislation hostage in order to extract more of what the Freedom Caucus wanted; Boehner referred to Jordan as a “legislative terrorist” in this amazing post-Congress profile of him.
Whatever Boehner or anyone else thinks of Jordan’s tactics, they have a track record of working. And Jordan is at it again with this candidacy. At present, he doesn’t have the votes to be elected speaker. And it’s not likely he will get them. But here’s a dream scenario for Jordan: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) both run for Ryan’s job. Neither man is able to secure a majority of the Republican conference, particularly with Jordan in the race. Jordan then becomes the kingmaker, the man who can make either McCarthy or Scalise speaker – so long as they are willing to give him (and the Freedom Caucus) what he wants.
There is, of course, the possibility that all of this is moot. Democrats are something very close to an even-money bet to retake the House majority this fall and, if that happens, there will only be two jobs – minority leader and minority whip – available for ambitious Republicans. It’s possible in such a circumstance that McCarthy and Scalise would make a deal where they both just keep their current jobs, cutting Jordan out totally.
But Jordan isn’t content to sit around and wait to see what others do. He wants to be a prime mover, someone who acts and makes others react against him. So he decides to run for speaker and sees where the chips fall.