Trumpism is finally sitting in the chair that Nancy Pelosi once occupied. This time not by force. Mike Johnson, an unknown 51-year-old congressman, is the new speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the second position in the line of succession to the White House after the vice president. He acceded to the position as the fifth option, after moderate and radical candidates failed to united divided Republicans, who have a majority in the House. Johnson had nothing on his legislative resume to qualify him as speaker. His qualities were twofold: having a minimal public profile and, above all, being the main collaborator from within the legislative branch in Donald Trump’s maneuvers to reverse the 2020 election result, which led to the assault on the very institution he now presides over.
Johnson’s rise to such a powerful position has put him under immediate scrutiny. In addition to his active support of the coup plot that is being investigated by the Justice Department, the portrait that emerges of Johnson is that of an ultra-religious and deeply homophobic man, who fiercely opposes abortion and supports fanatical conservatism. It was Trump’s express support that tipped the balance towards Johnson, which shows that the Republican leader considers the new speaker as someone not only of his own liking, but also easily influenced in comparison with the other radicals who failed.
In the short term, the consequence is more chaos and paralysis. Johnson’s first decision was to block aid to Ukraine and Israel requested by the White House with demands for budget cuts. The fantasy politics of the extreme right have a very short run when critical decisions on which millions of people depend have to be made.
On the domestic front, the first major clash with reality will happen on November 17, when the government’s temporary spending bill expires. It needs to be extended, but that can only be done with the agreement of the Democrats. The paralysis is exposing very quickly the political uselessness of populism, but the collateral damage of not taking action is too great. Trumpism notwithstanding, the Democrats cannot squander any opportunity to strike a deal.
The most troubling aspect of Johnson’s rise, however, is in the long run. It reveals that the internal battle in the Republican Party is consistently resolved in Trump’s favor, even though it’s proven to be an electoral liability. Trump continues to lead in the polls, and it’s increasingly likely that he will win the Republican nomination. He is indicted on more than 90 counts in four different jurisdictions. At this point, only justice seems in a position to remove him from U.S. politics. But even in that scenario, the question is how many Mike Johnsons are there still inside institutions and how much damage they are capable of doing.
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