The Speakership battle in the House is putting swing-district Republicans in a politically dire position as the chaos engulfing the lower chamber shows no signs of abating.
On one hand, many vulnerable Republicans are wary of backing Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a hard-right Republican and close ally of former President Trump, fearing a vote for him could haunt them in districts that President Biden won in 2020. On the other hand, Republicans risk potential blowback from the conservative base in a primary if they vote against Jordan.
“There’s no question that the damage is being done right now,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman. “Republicans in marginal districts are worried about Democrat opponents running ads that say Congress person-X voted to make Jim Jordan Speaker, and he was involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
“Those are not my words, but the ads write themselves,” he added.
On Tuesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released messaging guidance on “GOP Extremism Under a Potential Speaker Jordan.”
“It appears there are no more moderates left in the Republican conference capable of standing up,” the committee’s guidance reads. “Jordan will only win the Speakership if so-called ‘moderates’ continue to cave and get him there.”
The committee went on to list examples of what it called Jordan’s “extremism,” including him not accepting the results of the 2020 presidential election, his stances on immigration and his status as a founding member of the Freedom Caucus in the House.
Meanwhile, conservative figures have also raised red flags over the situation in the House, pointing to the refusal of many members not to support Jordan for Speaker.
“I am stunned,” said Brian Kilmeade, a conservative talk show host on Fox News. “I’ve never seen … a group of people commit political suicide like this, and after two weeks of therapy, people going home on their own and coming back, they’re still doing the same thing.”
Kilmeade had previously called Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) a “dumbass” for becoming the first Republican to vote against Jordan on Tuesday. Bacon represents Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, which the Cook Political Report labels as “lean Republican.”
“When Republicans finally choose a Speaker, they’re going to need to really be vocal about why they made that decision to choose that particular individual,” said Ron Bonjean, a veteran House Republican strategist. “Even though the election is a year away, this is really a primary issue. So this is months away for some members of Congress.”
“But there will be a lot of time between now and those primaries in order for many of the vulnerable Republicans to cast votes that they can show GOP voters where they stand on issues,” he continued. “I think it’s going to be much more about the issues than it is the personality of Jim Jordan.”
On Wednesday, Jordan failed on the second ballot to win the Speakership and lost by a larger margin than he did Tuesday. But Democrats were pinning the Speakership fiasco on Republicans before then.
Twenty-two Republicans voted against Jordan on Wednesday, including a number of swing-district Republicans, such as Reps. Mike Lawler (N.Y.), Anthony D’Esposito (N.Y.) and Lori Chavez-DeRamer (Ore.).
“If you’re in a purple district … if they voted yes and Jim Jordan would have been Speaker, it would have been a bigger risk for them, because of the moderate districts that they are in,” Bonjean said. “Most of the time, voting no does not get you in trouble.”
“By voting yes, you’re usually taking a leap and agreeing to, most of the time, policies that someone in their district is going to have a problem with,” he added.
Other Republicans are skeptical of whether this will have an impact on the election come next November, pointing to voters’ priorities.
“At the end of the day, [voters are] going to go, ‘OK, I get that, but how does it directly apply to me and my family right now?’ That’s how voters are going to look at this,” said one national Republican strategist.
The same strategist also pointed to efforts of Republicans in the past to tie Democrats to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“Nancy Pelosi was a pretty effective boogeyman, if you will, for Republicans to use in fundraising, et cetera,” the same strategist said. “But did she actually move the needle in some of these races?”
Doug Heye, former communications director at the Republican National Committee, said the tactic to tie a lawmaker or candidate to a Speaker or Speaker nominee will only go so far in a presidential election year.
“When I worked on the RNC’s Fire Pelosi campaign, it worked because it was a midterm,” Heye said. “In a presidential year, presumably with Trump on the ticket, that will block out issues like the Speaker’s race. Perhaps you could argue that it might in districts that won’t be competitive on the presidential level, but Trump dominates the political conversation everywhere.”
But the stakes in this particular Speakership battle are much higher, given the looming government shutdown and the deteriorating situation in Israel and the wider Middle East. Jordan’s repeated failure has renewed a push to grant temporary powers to Speaker Pro Tem Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).
Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.), who is facing reelection in a competitive district, came out in support of expanding McHenry’s powers temporarily.
“Time is a luxury we do not have and this will allow us to get back to governing,” Molinaro said in a statement.
And while not as many Americans will be familiar with Jordan or whomever the eventual speaker is when they hear Democratic attacks, they will be familiar with former President Trump.
“Every Republican who votes for Jordan for Speaker is simply following Trump’s marching orders — it’s clear Republicans are incapable of governing themselves and instead look to the indicted former president for guidance on everything,” the memo from the DCCC reads.
But any down-ballot Republican will likely be prepared to be tied to Trump, given that he appears to be on track to win the party’s nomination.
“It’s not a very innovative strategy, because they can try to tie Donald Trump to these candidates no matter what happens, because if he wins the nomination, he’s going to be leading the GOP ticket,” Bonjean said. “These members are going to be affected no matter what happens.”
Another Republican strategist noted that Republicans have figured out how to deal with that line of attack from Democrats.
“House Republicans have been winning races for 8 years with Trump (or his candidates) on the ballot,” the strategist said. “The focus will still be on Trump. A Jordan Speakership doesn’t dramatically change the environment.”
Much of this will depend on the performance of Congress, no matter who Republicans ultimately choose as Speaker.
“The notion that we have a dysfunctional Congress is an argument that is really easy for Democrats to make,” Weber said. “In those marginal districts, if your opponent can credibly argue: ‘This party is not capable of governing the country,’ and that’s an argument that is easy to make, it’s not ideological, and it will have broad appeal.”
“It’s a danger,” he added.