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The House speaker fight can’t escape Trump’s shadow

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, where host Jake Tapper pressed him on his support for Rep. Jim Jordan’s bid to be elected House speaker.

Some Republicans, Tapper reminded Crenshaw, are wary of Jordan (R-Ohio), given his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election to benefit President Donald Trump.

“He defied the congressional subpoena” from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot, Tapper said, “and he was trying to get [Vice President Mike] Pence to overturn the electoral votes.”

“But a lot of them did that,” Crenshaw replied, with a chuckle. “If I held that grudge, I wouldn’t have friends in the Republican conference, because a lot of them did that.”

That, Tapper conceded, was an “excellent point.”

And it is. Even after the turnover that accompanied the 2022 election — bringing in a galaxy of new members of the Republican caucus and ushering out others — more than half of Republicans serving in the House voted to reject electors from Arizona and/or Pennsylvania in the hours after the Capitol riot. If those votes were a baseline for disqualification from the speakership (setting aside Jordan’s other efforts to subvert the election results), the available options for serving as speaker winnow dramatically.

Jordan sits closest to the junction of two characteristics that the Republican conference might presumably seek in a speaker: He’s got a significant tenure in the chamber and is among the conference’s most conservative members. If House Republicans were looking for a more conservative member who didn’t challenge the election results, they might pick Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), though he hasn’t served as long. If they wanted someone who didn’t vote against the electors and had been in the House longer than Jordan, they might choose Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-S.C.) — the man serving as speaker pro tempore. But he’s not as conservative.

The closest legislator to Jordan on these metrics who didn’t vote to reject electors is Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.). He released a statement this month calling for ousted speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to be returned to the job.

As Crenshaw’s comments to Tapper make clear, though, almost no one in the conference really cares that Jordan worked to help Trump retain power. They didn’t care that McCarthy did in January; the extended opposition to his election at that point came mostly from people who had themselves worked to help prevent Joe Biden’s presidency. Nor did they care when a majority of the caucus voted to put forward Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) as speaker before he withdrew from consideration. It’s simply not in any way disqualifying for leadership positions in the caucus.

How could it be? The foremost voice within the party remains the person who was the Republican nominee for president in 2016 and 2020 and who is exceptionally well positioned to be the nominee in 2024: Trump. His insistence that the election was stolen, rigged or both continued without pause for nearly three years. And every legislator who served in the House on Jan. 6, 2021, and chose to side with his efforts to derail the finalization of Biden’s victory has learned to live with that decision — on those rare occasions where casting that vote caused any friction in the first place.

Trump himself has weighed in on Jordan’s behalf as the Ohio legislator seeks the top position in the House. Others in Trump’s broader orbit (including Fox News host Sean Hannity, according to a report from Axios) have mobilized on his behalf. Suggestions last week that Scalise’s first-round victory over Jordan in caucus voting reflected a diminishment of Trump’s clout were premature.

In retrospect, it’s fascinating that Trump’s tenure as president allowed Republican legislators to remain largely untainted by his anti-democratic tendencies for so long. Trump was largely disinterested in policy and often simply followed House leaders in passing bills. There were big-ticket items that are associated with Trump’s presidency, like the 2017 tax cuts, that constitute lines in the biographies of various House Republicans, but that vote was hardly one that indicated fealty to Trump. The votes on Jan. 6, though, offered in service to the president and his furious, misled base of support, are entirely intertwined with Trump’s disregard for the transfer of power and governmental institutions.

Most of the Republican conference, in other words, has already demonstrated its willingness to stand in Trump’s shadow. Even if Jordan isn’t elected speaker — certainly possible but perhaps decreasingly likely as the hours pass — Trump looms over those legislators’ careers. If Jordan does win that position, the caucus’s embrace of Trumpian politics gets even tighter.

On CNN, Crenshaw tried to frame Jordan as having become “part of the solution” in leading fellow Republicans, “not part of the problem.” If that’s true, it’s in part because the Trumpian approach that Jordan manifests — constant Fox News appearances, dishonest attacks on Biden — have been normalized. Sure, most of the members of the caucus tried to overturn 2020, he said with a chuckle, but whaddya gonna do?

Trump briefly flirted with running for speaker himself. Perhaps he then realized he didn’t need to for House leadership to reflect his interests.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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