Jim Crawford: Johnson’s past shows troubling signs of extremism

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 30, 2023

After three weeks of regrettable back-fighting and embarrassing chaos, the Republican majority in the House this week elected a new speaker, four-term U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, of Louisiana.

Speaker Johnson won the gavel because he was the last man standing after three better-known candidates were rejected by their fellow Republicans.

In a vote measured best by the level of exhaustion in the caucus, Johnson offered two traits that ultimately won his selection with a unanimous Republican vote: First, and most importantly, Johnson was Donald Trump’s favorite; Second, Johnson is a likable guy by those few who actually know him in Congress.

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This morning, before his name goes up on his new office doorway, Johnson has a few issues to address with a sense of urgency.

He has eight funding bills to pass immediately to keep the government running. Johnson will have to be introduced to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to negotiate differences in the House bills with those advanced by the Senate.

Next, Johnson will be charged with bills funding to support the wars in Israel and Ukraine, and border funding needed for the crisis on our southern border. These issues are no small task for the most experienced legislators in Congress and will pose significant challenges to the new speaker.

Johnson, the most inexperienced speaker to hold the position since Newt Gingrich, will need a skill set strongest in negotiation and compromise, and that may, of all his challenges, be the most difficult for him to demonstrate, given his background as a radical extremist in his own caucus.

Johnson is a member of the Freedom Caucus, the 20-something political extremists dedicated to proving that government cannot work and does not matter.

As a leader of that small group within Congress, Johnson most notably is known as a very active participant in attempting to overturn the free and fair election of President Joe Biden.

Johnson worked to overturn the votes of 81 million Americans and attempt to install the loser of the 2020 election, Donald Trump, in the office of president.

He did so, knowing that there was no factual evidence to support his actions on behalf of Trump.

Today, three years after the insurrection that Johnson supported with both word and deed, hundreds of insurrectionists are in prison, some for seditious conspiracy, a gentle term for treason.

Additionally, several of Trump’s most vociferous supporters, attorneys and political allies are facing charges or pleading guilty to lying about the 2020 election in support of Trump.

Trump faces similar charges and possibly prison sentences for his attempts to use the power of the presidency to remain in office.

Johnson brings some additional baggage with him to the speaker’s office from his Freedom Caucus background. Johnson is anti-abortion and would support a national abortion ban. Johnson is opposed to social services spending programs, including those providing food to the neediest Americans. Johnson is a climate-skeptic and does not support funding for the war in Ukraine.

At the end of the day, the Republican election of Johnson was a demonstration that Trump and his MAGA extremists, the advocates of political violence, retain control of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives.

While the insurrectionists, the Trump lawyers, and the rightwing media are all facing legal retribution for their attempts to abort the will of the people in 2020, Republicans still rush to please the ex-president who will turn his mobs on them for the slightest criticism.

Johnson may rise above his inexperience, and he may learn the importance of compromise, but he will never erase the stain of his role in the insurrection.

Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.