Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and former President Donald Trump.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images; Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images;
Trump endorsed Jim Jordan for speaker of the House — but it won’t be enough to get him the job.
Republicans will choose their candidate via secret ballot, limiting public scrutiny of the vote.
Plus, only up to a third of Republicans are likely to take orders from the former president.
The race to succeed former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is on, and Rep. Jim Jordan just scored what may be the best outside endorsement one could get for a Republican — former President Donald Trump.
But that won’t be enough for the Ohio Republican to lock up his party’s nomination for the top job.
Jordan faces stiff competition from current House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, and other candidates — including Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma — could still throw their hat in ahead of next Wednesday’s vote.
A founding member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus and current chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jordan remains a strong contender for the job, and he could certainly pull it off.
But this isn’t a primary election in some House district or Senate race. It’s a race to garner the confidence of a majority of the 221 Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Here are the key factors at play.
It’s a secret ballot
This is probably the single biggest thing that diminishes Trump’s influence.
When Republicans gather to choose a new candidate on Wednesday, they will do so via a “secret ballot,” meaning that members will not have to publicly state their votes.
That doesn’t preclude people from loudly proclaiming their support for Jordan. Since Trump endorsed the Ohio Republican on Thursday evening, several House conservatives have done just that.
But plenty of others — particularly Republicans who come from competitive districts, but also random lawmakers from random districts who you’ve probably never heard of — may not publicly state their choice, and maybe won’t even be asked about it either.
If Scalise or another candidate bests Jordan on Wednesday, any House Republican who’s weary of crossing Trump can simply say that they’re supporting the candidate their conference chose when it’s time to vote for him on the House floor.
It’s true that Trump has successfully convinced voters to oust Republicans who’ve crossed him. Just ask former Rep. Liz Cheney, or any of the other House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump and were primaried out of a job.
But this simply isn’t that. It’s a choice between two or three very conservative candidates, none of whom are staunchly anti-Trump, all of whom would be happy to do the former president’s bidding if he won another term next year.
Let’s say Scalise wins with a bare majority of votes — do you really think Trump’s going to try to field primary challengers against a majority of the House GOP conference? No. He has a national campaign to run, and many legal battles to fight.
Trump doesn’t have as much sway on Capitol Hill as you think
This may come as a surprise, but Republicans on Capitol Hill — even those that support his 2024 candidacy — ignore Trump all the time.
Less than two weeks ago, Trump called on Republicans to shut the government down, “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING.”
Days later, most of them voted for a bill to fund the government until November 17 that didn’t include much of what the party had hoped to see, including deep spending cuts and border security provisions.
And the resulting ouster of McCarthy, driven by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, had basically nothing to do with Trump. The former president didn’t even weigh in, other than bemoaning that Republicans “are always fighting among themselves.”
Trump has even less influence in the Senate, where he’s been calling for the ouster of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for the better part of two and a half years. McConnell, though he faced a leadership challenge for the first time in his tenure, overwhelmingly defeated Sen. Rick Scott of Florida last November.
Let’s look at the math
Perhaps the best way to gauge the levels of die-hard Trump support in the House GOP conference is to look at who has endorsed his 2024 presidential campaign.
There are currently 76 of them. Let’s assume for a moment that endorsing Trump for 2024 means you automatically support his pick for speaker of the House — that would give Jordan just 34% of the conference, leaving him 35 votes short of a majority of the conference.
And the truth is, that’s not how it even works.
Plenty of House Republicans who have endorsed Trump in 2024 — Vern Buchanan of Florida, Lisa McClain of Michigan, and Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, to name a few you’ve probably never heard of — have already announced their support for Scalise.
Could they change their minds? Sure.
But again, Republicans are happy to ignore Trump on matters that are unlikely to rile up and garner the long-term attention of the party’s base, like choosing a speaker. It’s not like Scalise or Hern are moderates.
There’s a lot that goes into building support to ascend to leadership roles on Capitol Hill, including histories of political contributions, longstanding working relationships, regional factionalism, and even petty political beefs.
All of those factors are going to outweigh any “defiance” of Trump when it comes to electing a new leader, particularly considering that the eventual victor could outlast Trump’s presence on the political scene.