You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Trump’s Weird Moment With Mike Johnson Reveals a Deeper GOP Sickness

Many prominent Republicans in competitive races are in full thrall to the deranged election denialism that Donald Trump has required of them.

Former President Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson at Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on April 12, 2024, in Palm Beach, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson at Mar-a-Lago on April 12

Looking back, it’s clear that one of the more fateful moments in the evolution of today’s Republican Party came when Kevin McCarthy made his abject pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago three weeks after January 6, 2021. This was, in essence, Donald Trump’s public absolution, with then–GOP leader McCarthy affirming that the Republican Party would make the construction of a monumental historical lie about the insurrection central to its identity for the foreseeable future.*

The infernal plan was to recast what was the largest outbreak of stateside political violence in memory as a just cause—while transforming the insurrectionists into victims and martyrs. By doing so, McCarthy would keep Trump and his movement safely in the Republican Party fold, ensuring the GOP electoral victories that could not be conceived of without their participation.

Suffice it to say, the plan went awry: McCarthy was deposed by angry MAGA lawmakers regardless, the lionization of January 6 helped produce a historic GOP midterm underperformance in 2022, and Trump will be the party’s presidential nominee while facing January 6–related criminal charges that could help doom the party’s 2024 hopes.

All of which set the stage for Mike Johnson’s groveling meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Friday. Billed as an event about “election integrity,” their press conference confirmed that the GOP remains as committed as ever to its disturbing post-insurrection path.

It was a deeply weird affair. With Trump hovering watchfully over Johnson, the House speaker said that in campaigning, he’s discovered that people across the country just happen to be thoroughly obsessed with precisely the same thing that preoccupies Trump. “Everywhere we go, one of the first questions that people ask about is this issue of election integrity,” Johnson said.

It’s notable that Johnson felt this would make Trump happy: The commentariat is often quick to judge Democrats for an obsession with January 6—in the run-up to the midterms it was suggested that voters didn’t share their pro-democracy focus; exit polls later revealed that along with abortion, it was indeed an animating issue. But as Johnson demonstrated, Trump’s GOP is the party that’s absolutely consumed with hallucinations, nightmares, and fantasies about January 6, in a way that’s verifiably politically damaging to them.

Johnson and Trump also announced that the House will pursue a new bill requiring proof of citizenship to vote. Johnson even rattled off a convoluted theory in which noncitizens are threatening our elections by the “design” of President Biden—a soft version of the “great replacement theory” that has been mainstreamed at the highest levels of Republican and MAGA establishment power.

There’s no greater threat to our elections than Trump and his movement, and regardless, it’s already illegal for noncitizens to vote. But this gesture has nothing to do with legislation: With it, Johnson publicly affirmed—with the same Mar-a-Lago shrine that McCarthy paid homage to as backdrop—that the party remains fully committed to the myth that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, here demonstrated by propping up the lie that our elections remain menaced by the same forces (fraudulent voters, many immigrants) that supposedly robbed Trump last time.

It’s worth noting why Johnson thinks this will help him. Johnson is, at the moment, in rather desperate need of Trump’s support, because he hopes to bring military aid to Ukraine to the floor, which Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene may punish with a snap vote to oust Johnson. Appearing with Trump could strengthen Johnson’s position, of course, but it’s notable that he saw a potent way to make common cause with Trump in renewing his commitment to falsifying January 6.

And here’s another measure of how deeply in thrall to that cause the GOP remains: By my count, at least a dozen Republican incumbents or prominent candidates in competitive races are tainted with election denialism, some of it extremely serious or even deranged.

These include representatives like Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who was extensively involved in Trump’s coup; Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, who co-wrote a children’s book falsely depicting the 2020 election as stolen; and Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, who attended the Capitol rally on January 6.

Meanwhile, GOP Representatives Mike Garcia and Ken Calvert of California, and David Schweikert of Arizona, all voted not to certify Biden’s electors. Representative Jen Kiggans of Virginia repeatedly fed doubts about the 2020 outcome. Democrats view all these as key targets.

Then there are election-denying GOP candidates in other top-tier races, such as Scott Baugh in California, who refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory; Joe Kent in Washington State, who called for the rioters to be pardoned; and Mayra Flores in Texas, who spread crackpot January 6 conspiracy theories. That’s only a partial list.

Could this factor help tip the balance of the House? It’s not all that far-fetched a possibility.

Dave Wasserman, senior editor and elections analyst at Cook Political Report, points to the Perry, Van Orden, and Kent contests as examples of races that might not be as competitive if those Republicans weren’t severe election deniers.

Wasserman also suggests keeping an eye on the GOP primary underway in the district of Representative Lauren Boebert (who is running in another district). That pits wild-eyed election denier Ron Hanks against a saner opponent. If Hanks wins, Democrats have a “very good chance” of winning Boebert’s seat, Wasserman says.

The upshot? As Wasserman notes, election denialism might end up mattering in only a limited number of races. But, he adds, “the margin in the House is so close right now that even things like that could affect the outcome.”

It’s easy to see how January 6 will become an issue in these contests. Reporters will surely ask these election deniers how they’ll conduct themselves on January 6, 2025, which will come after the new Congress is sworn in. Would they vote to certify Biden’s electors if he has defeated Trump and the latter has lost all efforts to litigate the outcome in court?

That might not be so easy for these candidates to answer in the affirmative, given today’s MAGA-fied GOP, which treats election losses as illegitimate by definition. If Democrats are doing their jobs, they’ll ensure that these Republicans are pressed to field this question.

It’s the ultimate tell that Trump himself also wants House GOP candidates subjected to this sort of January 6–related litmus test. Just before holding his presser with Johnson, Trump launched an attack on a sitting congressman, Dan Newhouse of Washington State, endorsing his “MAGA” primary opponent and slamming Newhouse as a “weak and pathetic RINO.”

What, in Trump’s estimation, makes Newhouse a “Republican in Name Only”? You guessed it: He voted to impeach Trump for the insurrection. House Republicans appear set to go into this fall’s elections fully tethered to Trump—but also to his definition of the party, which requires that its commitment to historical mythmaking about January 6 remain unquestioned and absolute.

*This post originally misidentified McCarthy’s position.