Jordan is a perfect ally for Trump, and a walking embodiment of a radicalized G.O.P. That won’t change, even if his Speaker bid fails because enough Republicans from Biden-majority districts hold the line.
Tuesday, Donald Trump was back in New York to attend his civil trial on charges of business fraud, and, as usual, he stopped directly outside the courtroom to attack the prosecutor, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James; and the judge, Arthur F. Engoron. “They are the frauds,” Trump said, repeating his false allegation that James and Engoron personally valued his Mar-a-Lago estate at eighteen million dollars. (In fact, a Palm Beach property appraiser valued the property at between $18 million and $27.6 million.) Trump has denied all wrongdoing.
The former President’s latest rant came a day after U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan—who is overseeing his federal trial in Washington, D.C., on charges relating to his failed effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election—imposed a partial gag order on him, saying that he is not allowed “to launch a pretrial smear campaign against participating government staff, their families, and foreseeable witnesses.” In recent months, Trump has repeatedly referred to the special counsel Jack Smith, who is overseeing the case’s prosecution, as “deranged.” He has also attacked Mike Pence, his former Vice-President, and the retired general Mark Milley, who was formerly the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—both of whom may well be called to testify about what they saw in the period after the 2020 Presidential election.
As Trump was renewing his assault on the courts, one of his staunchest allies in Washington, the Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, was making a bid to become the next Speaker of the House. In an initial floor vote, Jordan fell well short of the tally he needed, with twenty Republican representatives voting against him. The G.O.P. caucus subsequently indicated that it would hold another vote on Wednesday, and Jordan said, “We’re going to keep working.”
If Jordan were to be elected Speaker, it would signal that the Republican Party on Capitol Hill had formally accepted its role as a mere appendage to an insurrectionary right-wing movement led by a self-aggrandizing megalomaniac. Jordan was a key point man in the House for Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Since then, in his roles as head of the House Judiciary Committee and chair of the new House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, he has acted as a mouthpiece for the former President and his efforts to discredit his accusers. Earlier this year, Jordan called for defunding parts of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department.
In seeking a limited gag order from Judge Chutkan, lawyers acting for the special counsel pointed out that, just as Trump’s statements after the 2020 election were designed to undermine public faith in the U.S. political system, his attacks on judges, prosecutors, and potential witnesses “are intended to undermine public confidence in an institution—the judicial system—and to intimidate individuals.” Trump’s ultimate goal is the same one shared by all would-be despots: to discredit the existing system and liberate themselves from the normal bounds of democratic politics.
Campaigning in Iowa, Trump responded to Chutkan’s ruling by portraying himself as a victim and saying he would be “the only politician in history that runs with a gag order where I’m not allowed to criticize people.” Actually, Chutkan clearly stated that Trump “may still vigorously seek public support as a Presidential candidate, debate policies and people related to that candidacy, criticize the current administration and assert his belief that this prosecution is politically motivated.” She added, “But I cannot imagine any other criminal case in which a defendant is permitted to call the prosecutor ‘deranged’ or ‘a thug,’ and I will not permit it here simply because the defendant is running a political campaign.”
Despite Chutkan’s ruling, the courts are still giving Trump a good deal of leeway because he is a former President running for reëlection. If any other defendant stood outside a court and called the judge and prosecutors frauds who were trying to set him up, they would risk being held in contempt, and maybe even being thrown in the slammer. Trump exploits his privilege, knowing that judges like to avoid political controversy and that elected Republicans like Jordan will back him up no matter what he says or does.
During Trump’s 2016 election campaign, Jordan supported the future President and made his bones with the candidate by publicly campaigning for him shortly after the “Access Hollywood” tape was released. After the 2020 election, Jordan repeatedly expounded Trump’s baseless charges that the election had been stolen. On January 5, 2021, according to the Times, he forwarded to his friend Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, a text message he had received from a former Pentagon official that outlined a legal strategy to overturn the election, and on the following morning he spoke with Trump himself for ten minutes before the former President headed out to address his supporters at the Ellipse.
“Jim Jordan was privy to nearly everything, if not everything, about and pertaining to January 6th,” Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as a senior aide to Meadows in the Trump White House, says in a new Democratic political ad that targets Jordan. “Jim Jordan can’t be trusted with the Constitution.” Hutchinson is no Democrat; she just knows a Trump enabler when she sees one. Despite being in his ninth term as the representative of Ohio’s Fourth District, Jordan has yet to be the primary sponsor of a bill that has been enacted. Rather than making laws, he has concentrated on the politics of protest and performance, co-founding the House Freedom Caucus and consistently undermining efforts to forge bipartisan agreements on spending and other issues. The former G.O.P. Speaker John Boehner, in his 2021 memoir, said he “never saw a guy who spent more time tearing things apart.”
If Jordan still can’t garner enough votes, the country will be spared the experience of having a “legislative terrorist” (Boehner’s words again) in the Speaker’s office. But the very destructive attributes that Boehner, Jordan’s fellow Ohio Republican, identified in him make him a perfect ally for Trump, and a walking embodiment of a radicalized G.O.P. That won’t change, even if his Speaker bid fails because enough Republican representatives from Biden-majority districts hold the line and refuse to vote for such an extremist.