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Jim Jordan Is the Nihilist That House Republicans Deserve

The Ohioian, who combines an extreme lack of interest in governing with a governing interest in extremism, would be the perfect leader of this lapsed party.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Ohio Republican Jim Jordan seen here doing what he does best: tearing at the threads of democracy alongside other far-right extremists

The House of Representatives will hold a vote on Tuesday for a new speaker. While it’s far from guaranteed at this point, one likely outcome is that Ohio Representative Jim Jordan will be elected to replace Kevin McCarthy, who lost a motion to vacate the speakership earlier this month.

Jordan spent the weekend working to lock up support from key House GOP moderates, an endeavor that seems to be proving fruitful. Missouri Representative Ann Wagner, who had said last week that she would “never” back Jordan for the speakership, came out in favor of him on Monday by saying she has “always been a team player.” Alabama Representative Mike Rogers, who described the eight members who ousted McCarthy as “traitors” and previously opposed Jordan, also came around after this weekend’s wooing.

A Jordan speakership would be the logical end point of the House GOP’s decline. Most Republican lawmakers have given up on trying to actually do the basic job of passing legislation, either because the House rules make it so difficult for rank-and-file members or because they have little interest in it to begin with. Elevating Jordan would be a triumph for show over substance, for extremism over common sense, and for election denial over democracy.

Jordan stands out among his predecessors and colleagues because he is not a real lawmaker. By this I don’t mean Jordan isn’t a member of the House of Representatives. What I mean is that he is quite literally not a “lawmaker.” The Center for Effective Lawmaking, a project by Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia, rates House members based on their legislative performance. In the 117th Congress, Jordan was tied for fourth place among the least effective lawmakers.

Jordan sponsored only a single bill in the last Congress—on social media censorship, a perennial issue among some conservatives—and it did not advance out of committee. He has never successfully drafted a bill that became law. Jordan’s legislative record is surprisingly threadbare even by the standards of modern Congresses. He does not appear to even propose names for new post offices in his state, introduce resolutions for holidays or commemorations, or any of the other mundane work that lawmakers often carry out. Meredith Lee Hill, who covers all agriculture-related goings-on on Capitol Hill for Politico, reported that Jordan’s supporters pitched his speakership to agriculture-minded Republicans as the “best way to get the huge [Farm] bill to the floor” in what remains of this Congress’s term. As Hill noted, Jordan has never himself voted for a farm bill at any time in his career.

Calling Jordan a “representative” is also a bit of a stretch. Ohio’s 4th congressional district, which Jordan has represented since 2006, is the product of extreme partisan gerrymandering. For most of his career, it was an ugly, misshapen lump of a district that stretched across northwestern Ohio and elected Republicans by 2-to-1 margins. Cook Political Report rates the current iteration as having a 20-point GOP advantage. As a result, Jordan is accountable only to the most extreme voices in the conservative movement.

So what exactly does Jordan do in Washington? He wages partisan wars against Democrats. That’s it. He does not try to meaningfully improve the lives of the members of his district. He does not sponsor legislation that would affect people’s day-to-day lives, even from a conservative point of view. He serves on committees, harangues the witnesses before them, and goes on Fox News afterward to tout his own actions and burnish his reputation as a “fighter,” whatever that means.

This has made him a popular figure among right-wing media personalities like Fox’s Sean Hannity, who pressured potential holdouts to support him over the weekend. Others who actually try to enact policy into law are less favorable toward him. John Boehner, who served as speaker from 2011 to 2015, openly despised his fellow Ohioan for his scorched-earth partisanship. “Jordan was a terrorist as a legislator going back to his days in the Ohio House and Senate,” he told Politico in 2017. “A terrorist. A legislative terrorist.”

Jordan earned Boehner’s ire during the debt-ceiling negotiations in 2011 with then-President Barack Obama, where Jordan reportedly teamed up with outside conservative groups to try to pressure other Republicans into voting down Boehner’s deal, destroying Boehner’s credibility as the Republican leader and as a negotiating partner with Democrats. His willingness to shiv other Republicans has been on full display during the current speaker battle as well, where he told Majority Leader Steve Scalise that he would not win on the floor despite winning a majority of votes in the caucus last week.

That move defied the “Hastert rule”—an article of faith in the House GOP caucus whereby they only act on things that a majority of their caucus supports—but Jordan has apparently paid no price for it. More moderate members like Rogers and Wagner threw their support behind Jordan on Monday by stating that he has the support of a majority of members in the caucus, a rule that Jordan himself defied to be in that position. When it comes to standing up to their party’s far-right flank, House GOP moderates make the Denver Broncos’ defense look like the Berlin Wall.

Jordan’s victory would be especially troubling since he does not appear to believe in democracy, whether within the House GOP caucus or for the American people in general. Jordan was a central figure in efforts to overturn the election results by way of the electoral vote count on January 6. He beat the drum for Trump’s lies about a stolen election after Biden was declared the winner in November 2020 and sought to weaponize the House to spread those claims ahead of the electoral vote count on January 6, 2021. After a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, Jordan voted to carry through their ultimate goal and overturn an election for Trump’s benefit.

Even now, the full scale of Jordan’s involvement is unclear. He defied a subpoena by the House January 6 committee after Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected McCarthy’s brazen effort to place him on the committee. The committee’s final report described Jordan as a “significant player in President Trump’s efforts,” noting that he took part in calls and strategy meetings with Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and other key figures. The three men communicated regularly on January 6 itself, though what they discussed is not known. “In the days following January 6th, Representative Jordan spoke with White House staff about the prospect of presidential pardons for members of Congress,” the committee noted.

Elevating Jordan to the speakership could also strengthen his ability to run cover for Donald Trump in his various legal battles. Jordan currently chairs the House Judiciary Committee and its ironically named “Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government,” whose creation he pushed for after the GOP recaptured the House earlier this year. In those capacities, he has tried to obtain records from the Justice Department and the Georgia and New York prosecutors about their prosecutions—cases in which he himself may be a material witness.

Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, flatly rebuffed his request last week in blunt terms. “A charitable explanation of your correspondence is that you are ignorant of the United States and Georgia Constitutions and codes,” she said in a response letter. “A more troubling explanation is that you are abusing your authority as Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary to attempt to obstruct and interfere with a Georgia criminal prosecution.” As speaker, Jordan could push more aggressively for impeachment inquiries and court challenges to further those goals.

Beyond these stunts, Jordan is also an avowed practitioner of hard-line fights over the debt ceiling, the federal budget, and other hostage-takings. The jury is out on whether Jordan has the interest or even the ability to navigate these fights over the next year. He has no record of negotiating with anyone he could not simply bludgeon with allies in right-wing media outlets, conservative policy groups, and friendly super PACs. And his behavior during the debt-ceiling fights and government shutdowns of yesteryear suggests he might be more willing to let everything blow up and blame it on the Biden White House.

If Jordan prevails on Tuesday, it will feel like the natural progression of the House GOP’s approach to Congress over the past 30 years. Starting with Newt Gingrich in 1994 and continuing to the present day, Republicans have done everything they can to transform the House of Representatives from a functioning legislative chamber into a vehicle for performative lawmaking and partisan stunts. Jim Jordan’s career, as it were, is a testament to how thoroughly that impulse has overwhelmed everything else. To elect him as speaker is to simply give up on basic governance.