Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the new House speaker, has pulled off what no one thought possible: He swept past the bad blood, the ego-driven personalities and ideological divisions among House Republicans and won a unanimous vote of his conference.
The Goldilocks candidate even surprised Donald Trump. Trump predicted Monday, “There’s only one person” who could unite the party: Jesus Christ. “If Jesus came down and said, ‘I want to be speaker,’ he would do it. Other than that, I haven’t seen anybody that can guarantee it.”
There are famously Five Families warring inside the House Republican tent: the Tea Party-influenced House Freedom Caucus, the conservative Republican Study Committee, business-oriented Chamber of Commerce types, the moderate Republican Governance Group and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
So how did Johnson get them temporarily to agree on electing him?
He belongs to the Freedom Caucus and used to chair the Republican Study Committee, nailing down his right flank.
His leadership position as House Republican Conference vice chairman meant he had personal relationships with many moderate members, who liked his low-key style and his willingness to listen to them. And he has demonstrated an interest in the details of legislation, impressing other members expert in tax, budget and defense issues.
It also didn’t escape the notice of MAGA members that he had served on the defense team in Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2020.
New York House Republicans, several of whom blocked Jim Jordan’s speaker bid, all voted for Johnson so we can “get back to work.”
Rep. John Moolenaar, a Michigan Republican, told Newsmax that Johnson “works well with all segments of our conference. I never heard a bad word about him.”
Other members called him a “Happy Warrior” out of the same mold as the late Jack Kemp, who could disagree with someone without being disagreeable.
Finally, Johnson has formidable communication skills. A constitutional lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, he has years of experience arguing cases in federal court. He was also a college professor and conservative talk-show host.
Gary Palmer, an Alabama member who ran against Johnson for the speakership, told me Johnson’s Tuesday night speech asking for votes “was one of the finest I have ever heard in politics”; he was instantly enthusiastic to support him.
Having won such a miraculous victory, Johnson will immediately be tested in the boiling hot cauldron of the House. He will have to work with Democrats, the White House and fellow Republicans to avoid a government-funding shutdown that looms Nov. 18. Punchbowl News calls that “like advancing straight from tee-ball to the majors.”
Palmer says he’s pleased Johnson embraced the same five commonsense principles to reform the budget process he touted when running for speaker. They are:
1. Fund the government on time with all single subject appropriations bills passing the House by June 30 — or no recess til it’s done.
2. Pass real spending cuts, NOT budget gimmicks.
3. No short term, stop-gap funding of the government.
4. Enforce a true 72-hour rule allowing members and voters time to review legislation.
5. Make sure power is decentralized enough that almost all members feel they have a stake in bills passing on the House floor.
Those are tall orders, and if Johnson doesn’t measure up he will lose his job one of two ways in a year — either Democrats take back control or Republicans will turn him out of office like they did Kevin McCarthy.
But I’ve spoken to both friends and skeptics of Johnson who say they won’t bet against him.
One lesson of politics is that everyone who gets to the top has usually traveled there by one of two roads — one labeled talent and one labeled luck. The secret to success, the late Rep. Edward Pattison of New York told me, is: “Never let anyone know which one of those roads you took to where you are now.”
The truth is, of course, most successful politicians combine real talent with great luck. Speaker Mike Johnson is no exception. Fewer than nine years ago, he was a mere lawyer in Shreveport, La., when his local state legislator resigned to become a judge.
Johnson filed for the seat, and to his astonishment, he drew no opponents and was automatically elected.
When his local congressman gave up his seat in 2016, Johnson was perfectly positioned to run and wound up beating a Democrat with 65% of the vote, four points higher than Donald Trump’s showing. He shrewdly stayed out of the speaker battle until his low-key, Happy Warrior approach was exactly what desperate members were looking for.
Mike Johnson, at 51 the youngest House speaker save for Paul Ryan in 150 years, has demonstrated both talent and luck are on his side.
John Fund is a National Review columnist and a fellow at The Committee To Unleash Prosperity.