It’s Time for Mike Johnson to Speak Up

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AP Photo/Eric Gay

To many, Rep. Mike Johnson was an unknown when he suddenly appeared on the scene as a contender for House Speaker. He was (and in some circles still is) an enigma. 

In truth, I had a suspicion, based on some conversations I’d been having with folks here in Louisiana who know him better than I do, that he was considering throwing his hat into the ring. However, Steve Scalise was in leadership and was a natural successor. Considering both are from the same state and have worked together for years, Johnson wasn’t going to interfere with that. So he instead supported Scalise. 

But several people I spoke with knew that Johnson was interested. He is a solid conservative with a stellar voting record, but he wasn’t in the House Freedom Caucus. He had experience working with colleagues on the far right and in the center, and he’s been a regular supporter of Donald Trump all the while. The fact that he was interested showed a lot of drive and a healthy amount of ambition. 

It was a no-brainer for me to endorse him then, as I still do now.

I’ve spoken with Johnson a couple of times on my radio show. He’s solid on the issues and smart on several policy fronts. He is a true believer in conservatism, something that is rare among potential leaders. There is one flaw, however, that I think is holding him back from having an impactful Speakership so far – he’s too damn quiet.

Johnson and the rest of House leadership are at a retreat in Miami this week, and Punchbowl’s newsletter this morning has a bit about Johnson’s leadership that’s relevant to the above point.

2) Johnson’s leadership. On several occasions during the retreat, lawmakers told Johnson that they’re hoping he becomes a more vocal leader. Johnson’s style is hard to pin down. He’s not very eager to take specific positions and push the conference to follow him. For example, after the Senate passed a $95 billion foreign aid funding bill, Johnson said it wasn’t a priority for him given the looming government funding deadlines.
At the ELC retreat, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said Johnson should be more of a leader and not a neutral referee.
Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) wondered aloud why Johnson was spending so much time at the retreat talking about Ukraine aid when there’s a government shutdown just days away.
This gets back to an adage we hear a lot in the House Republican Conference — despite how often people pine for member-driven leadership, Republicans truly want to be led. Then they can complain about what direction they’re being led in.

Knowing what I know of Johnson and observing him since he’s taken the job, I think Rep. Bob Good is a little off the mark, but not too far. It’s not so much that Johnson is a “neutral referee” as he’s someone who is taking in a whole lot of information all at once and trying to come to the most informed decision before charging ahead. He’s dealing with a fractured caucus and, if half the media reports are to be believed, he’s constantly on the verge of an ouster. He was elected on the verge of multiple crises – from government funding to foreign conflicts – and he’s combatting a desperate and aggressive Democratic party caught in a potentially catastrophic election year.

But I do think that Johnson needs to be a lot more vocal, not just in news hits and tweets (I will never refer to them as “posts” on “X”), and he needs to be a lot more forceful. The Republican Party needs a decisive leader, and that’s going to require a couple of snap judgments and standing loudly and proudly on conservative principles. I know he’s a stellar conservative politician, but now is the time to be a stellar conservative leader.

I maintain that the two best Congressmen the conservative movement has right now are Mike Johnson and Chip Roy. I would love it if Johnson had some of the fire that Roy has, but I know that Johnson is the right man for the job right now.

The thing about Kevin McCarthy is that, while I disliked how he rose to power and the fact that he was a creature of Washington and the Establishment, I can’t deny he was impactful because he was never once in doubt about himself and his decisions. He was absolutely sure of himself and his leadership. That’s something conservatives need to see more of from Johnson, and we need to see it now. The fractured House Republicans need a more vocal, forceful leader.

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