The race for speaker reveals four types of Republicans in the House of Representatives

Until a few weeks ago, no member of the House Freedom Caucus had come close to becoming speaker of the House. In the wake of Jim Jordan’s candidacy, it’s hard not to wonder if a right-wing president might be a matter of when, not if.

Yes, Mr. Jordan failed to win the gavel three times. But his failed bid nevertheless revealed that the ultraconservative faction of congressional Republicans is larger in number and potentially more widely acceptable to mainstream congressional Republicans than might otherwise be known.

Just think of all the different votes House Republicans took against Mr. Jordan after Kevin McCarthy was ousted as speaker:

  • First, Steve Scalise defeated Mr. Jordan in a secret ballot at the Republican House conference, 113-99, a result that gave Mr. Jordan about 45 percent of the conference.

  • After Mr. Scalise stepped down, Mr. Jordan won 124 votes at the House Republican convention against Austin Scott, enough to win his party’s nomination for speaker. That’s about 55 percent of Republicans.

  • In another secret ballot test, 152 members indicated they would vote for Mr. Jordan as Speaker of the House, while 55 said they would vote against him. That’s about 70 percent of Republicans.

  • In the public vote on the floor, Mr. Jordan won 200 votes on the first ballot for Speaker. That’s about 90 percent of Republicans, though his support has waned in subsequent polls.

  • In the end, Mr. Jordan received just 86 votes in a secret ballot on whether to remain the party’s candidate for president, ending his bid. That’s less than 40 percent of House Republicans.

Neither vote offers a perfect measure for House Republicans. On its own, each is an incomplete narrative, shaped by different questions asked of Republican members under different circumstances and even different rules. But together, they offer a detailed picture of how Republicans responded to Jordan’s candidacy.

The polls show nearly half of Republicans in Congress sympathize with Mr. Jordan and the conservative right wing, putting the anti-establishment outsiders within arm’s reach of becoming the dominant faction in the House Republican conference. It suggests that the right wing of the party could, under circumstances not necessarily very different from today, make a serious bid for the House leadership — and win.

For simplicity, let’s use those votes to divide House Republicans into four groups.

Any way you cut it, about 40 percent of Republicans supported Mr. Jordan at every stage. They backed him against a mainstream conservative leader like Mr. Scalise, and backed him even after Mr. Jordan’s House bid was apparently doomed.

It almost goes without saying that these Republicans are more aligned with the right wing than the mainstream of the party. This makes the right wing almost half of the party.

It’s worth noting that ideology may not have been the only factor that shaped how Republicans voted for speaker. It is possible that some Republicans supported Mr. Jordan because they thought a right-wing speaker could quell a right-wing insurgency. Perhaps others thought Mr. Jordan was doomed, and so this was a free opportunity to demonstrate their conservative credentials and appease party activists, especially since Donald J. Trump supported it.

But Mr. Jordan won the support of those Republicans again and again, even in secret-ballot tests and even after his candidacy was blocked on the floor. In all likelihood, this was sincere support for someone once derided as a “legislative terrorist” by John Boehner.

To become his party’s nominee for chairman, Mr. Jordan won additional support from a group of conservative members who preferred Mr. Scalise but who ultimately gave Mr. Jordan a chance to lead the party.

This group of rank-and-file Republicans backed Mr. Jordan in a secret ballot, so it’s reasonable to assume their support was genuine, even if he wasn’t their first choice.

The willingness of these rank-and-file members to freely support Mr. Jordan is a striking indication of how he and the House Freedom Caucus have been accepted as part of the GOP mainstream in the Trump era — not just a begrudgingly tolerated fringe faction. , as seemed to be the case a few years ago.

These rank-and-file conservatives may not be as flamboyant as the libertarian faction, but they are one of the most significant groups in Republican politics. They hold the balance of power in the House Republican Conference. And while they may not always like anti-establishment rebels — they preferred Mr. Scalise, after all — their adoption of ultraconservative tactics in the Trump era, including voting against certification in the 2020 election, is crucially character-defining. of the Republican congressional caucus as a whole.

Unlike the rank-and-file members who willingly embraced Mr. Jordan after Mr. Scalise’s downfall, these Republicans struggled to come around to the idea of ​​voting for Mr. Jordan. It wasn’t their idea. They didn’t want it. And many said they would not vote for him on the floor.

In the end, they still voted for him.

Many of these relatively moderate members may have felt a desire to help unify the party. Others may have agreed out of fear of Mr. Trump or conservative activists. As my colleagues have reported, Mr. Jordan and his allies have “smashed” moderate Republicans by mobilizing the conservative media and activists to pressure them into submission. Many did.

Either way, the acquiescence of this group of reluctant Republicans is a familiar story in the Trump era. Throughout, a significant portion of the Republican elite has shown reservations about him and the direction of the party. But in the end, most Republicans fall in line.

Not everyone lined up. In the end, 20 to 25 Republicans opposed Mr. Jordan on the floor — publicly. As a result of these public votes, this is the group we understand best. It’s also a group that’s more complicated than you might think.

Let’s start with the unexpected: this is a relatively moderate group. On average, they are among the least conservative GOP members, about the 10th percentile among House Republicans as measured by DW-NOMINATE, an academic measure of members’ ideology based on congressional voting. They are also from relatively competitive districts, with the typical dissident coming from a district that Mr. Trump won by about seven points, compared with about 25 points for non-dissidents.

But not all dissidents were moderates, and not all came from competitive districts. Perhaps surprisingly, a quarter of dissenters have already backed Mr. Trump for president in 2024. A similar number of dissenters voted against confirming the 2020 election result and still opposed Mr. Jordan. No one voted to impeach Mr. Trump after Jan. 6. This is not a group of moderates Never Trump.

The number of conservative dissidents is a reminder that opposition to Mr. Jordan was not strictly ideological. As my colleague Carl Hulse put it: Mr. Jordan was “brought down by the rebellion of the rule-followers.”

By contrast, most moderates ended up endorsing Mr. Jordan for speaker. So did most of the problem solvers faction. A majority of Republicans from competitive districts also voted for Mr. Jordan. Perhaps most astonishingly, the two Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump after Jan. 6 but survived electoral challenges voted for Mr. Jordan.

Or to put it another way, many more moderates joined the “consensual rank and file” than dissidents. The dissent may have been enough to unseat Mr. Jordan, but in the future they may not be enough to prevent the party’s most conservative faction from gaining power in Congress.

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