You’re familiar with the old leftist phrase “The worse, the better.” It means the worse things get, the better for our side. It’s often attributed to Lenin, but it looks like it was actually uttered by Georgi Plekhanov, a Marxist theoretician who opposed Lenin but had the good fortune to die of tuberculosis before Comrade Ulyanov could have him carted off to Siberia and shot. The worse the material conditions of the working class under the czar, he argued, the more likely it is they’ll embrace revolution.
When I was younger, I tried to believe that this was true. But reality, I found, usually subscribed to the dictum “The worse, the worse.” That is, every bad thing that happened in politics, every victory of the right, usually just led to more victories. There was no moment when the working class woke up and saw what a ruse it all was. When the economic meltdown happened in 2008, some people on the broad left thought maybe, finally, here was the moment when the people would rise up and demand a new economic paradigm driven by more government intervention. But instead of getting that, we got the Tea Party.
However: We who analyze politics for a living must be careful not to rely too much on past patterns; we risk being generals fighting the last war. And it’s with that in mind that I think the possibility of Jim Jordan becoming speaker of the House could finally prove old Plekhanov right.
Jordan would be a disaster as speaker. He’d be a disaster for the country, which is bad, but actually I don’t think he could really do that much damage, with Democrats holding the Senate and a Democrat in the White House. No—the real disaster would be for the Republican Party. So while I’m not—let me be clear—exactly cheering on this outcome, I certainly see some big, bright silver linings.
Why? Let us count the ways. First, speakers traditionally work their way up, slowly building relationships, doing favors, raising money. Jordan has surely done some of that, but it’s not his real calling card. His real calling card is that he’s a right-wing media star who has made himself memorable and notable with his obnoxious sneer, his wild rhetoric and charges, his sportscoat-less swagger at committee hearings, and the like. I’m obviously not a GOP House caucus insider, but I’d be shocked if he’s bothered to build relationships beyond those that have been useful to him.
Second, he has zero, and I mean zero, relationships with Democrats. Kevin McCarthy didn’t have many either, but that just proves my point, because look what happened to him: If he’d bothered to build some relationships across the aisle, a handful of Democrats would have voted “present” this week, and he’d still be speaker. The House minority is pretty powerless, but it isn’t completely powerless. There are times when the speaker has to cut a deal with the minority leader. Do you see Jim Jordan doing that?
Third, does he have any kind of relationship with Mitch McConnell? Jordan said this week it’s “fine” and “good.” Um … sure. McConnell has done his share to burn down the Senate, Lord knows, but compared to people like Jordan, he’s Arthur Vandenberg. Cynical and slippery though he is, McConnell at least believes in a kind of old-school decorum that Jordan has utterly rejected. They’re stylistically polar opposites. And then there’s Ukraine aid, which McConnell backs and Jordan staunchly opposes.
Fourth, he’s going to make promises about cutting spending that he won’t be able to keep. This in no small part is what brought down the last three Republican speakers—they talked a big game about shrinking government, but they didn’t deliver because they were fundamentally lying. When Republicans say, “We’re going to cut government,” they mean domestic discretionary spending, which is less than 15 percent of the budget. Drastic cuts to those programs are unpopular, so there just isn’t that much to cut. Speaker Jordan will bump up against this reality just as Speakers Boehner, Ryan, and McCarthy did.
Fifth, what did Jordan know about January 6? Liz Cheney just said that Jordan “knew more” about Trump’s January 6 plans “than any other” member of Congress. “Jim Jordan was involved, was part of the conspiracy in which Donald Trump was engaged as he attempted to overturn the election,” she said in a speech in Minnesota. If he becomes speaker and Democrats are doing their job, they’ll say “Jim Jordan” and “January 6” with the frequency that Rudy Giuliani used to say “9/11.” The only coup against the United States ever led by one of its major political parties will hang like stink on the GOP.
Sixth … ah, the sixth one! This is the best. Back in June, the Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit against Ohio State University, brought by former athletes in the wrestling program who accused a university doctor of serial sexual abuse, could move forward. The plaintiffs are pressing ahead to depose everyone who might have knowledge of the situation. That would include former assistant coach Jim Jordan.
He of course denies knowledge of any abuse. Well, a lawsuit in which he is compelled to answer questions under oath might finally settle things. If he’s telling the truth, he’s telling the truth. If he’s not … he coached there so many years ago that the statute of limitations probably prevents him from being criminally charged. But if—if—it is revealed that he knew something and said nothing, is that the man the Republicans really want leading them?
That’s a bit speculative, but the first five reasons are not. Jordan has shown none of the skills that being a good speaker normally requires. Of course, today’s GOP is not a normal political party. He will “succeed” in the sense that he will adequately represent all the extreme and unhinged things the party stands for. But eventually, a speaker confronts reality in the form of process: the need to pass spending bills and cut deals with the Senate and the White House. Everything about Jordan’s career suggests that he will fail operatically at this.
The question, to return to Tovarich Plekhanov’s formulation, is whether those crucial slivers of the voting public will recognize it and turn on the GOP. It’s hard to say. But let’s put it this way. He’s been a lightning rod his entire career. The one idea with which he is most closely associated, impeachment of Joe Biden, is broadly unpopular—even 60 percent of independents oppose it. His scowling visage is the true face of the GOP. Let America see it.