After weeks of chaos after the right-wing ouster of Kevin McCarthy, the House of Representatives has finally elected a new Speaker — Mike Johnson. The crisis revealed deep divisions within the Republican Party, with three candidates being selected and then failing to find support—with the most dramatic being Jim Jordan’s multiple failed votes on the House floor.
The crisis showed that the right-wing of the Republican Party, represented most prominently by the Freedom Caucus, and the establishment wing, represented by figures like Mitch McConnell, lack the cohesion necessary to effectively lead the House of Representatives, especially given their narrow majority. The ongoing civil war in the Republican Party—opened by the 2016 election of Donald Trump—has spilled into the mainstream and become nationally and internationally obvious. The more than three-week delay in choosing a new Speaker delayed important U.S. strategic objectives, such as sending aid to Israel and Ukraine and passing a budget before a potential government shutdown in November.
Mike Johnson: A Compromise between the Far Right and the Establishment
Johnson, the new Speaker of the House, is a compromise candidate with the Far Right, given that he is a Republican who has the support of Donald Trump and a decades-long record of hard-right positions, and he helped lead the campaign to deny the 2020 election. Unlike Jim Jordan, however, Johnson he is more within the “mainstream” of the party. Johnson was elected with the support of the Freedom Caucus and has attended their meetings but has never formally joined, generally keeping a lower profile (as compared to Jordan, who gained a reputation as a rabble-rouser in Congress). Johnson has mainly positioned himself as a member of the hard right on social issues; he is conservative on spending but doesn’t openly clash with the GOP leadership. By contrast, Jordan is a hardliner on budget issues and is perfectly willing to go against the Republican grain to pursue this politics — which is a concern for the party’s mainstream, who want to keep the government open and continue working on business as usual without disruptions over budgetary matters from their hard-right minority.
By creating a profile based around social issues, Johnson was able to join the Right while garnering support from both the moderates in the GOP congressional delegation and the Freedom Caucus. This is in keeping with the general political trend within the Republican Party, which is resolving its conflicts by uniting around social issues, such as attacking abortion and queer rights, while leaving to the side international issues or questions of how much to slash government spending.
In Congress, Johnson has maintained a reputation as an opponent of abortion and queer rights — indeed, before entering Congress, Johnson developed a profile as an attorney for an anti-queer organization and fighting in favor of bans on “sodomy.” As a congressional representative, Johnson had an A+ rating from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List in the last two sessions of Congress and a 100 percent rating for the current year from FRC Action, the legislative arm of the influential evangelical group Family Research Council. Last year, Johnson proposed a bill to block the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity with children younger than 10 at any federally funded institution — generally understood to be a national version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Johnson is a strong Trumpist who not only led the campaign to overturn the 2020 election but who also, in 2021, voted against establishing a national commission to investigate the assault on Capitol Hill on January 6. His Trumpist profile is no small detail, given that the Speaker candidate before him, Tom Emmer, was forced to drop out in large part because Trump opposed him. Trump’s support is crucial to holding together the Republican Party because he still stands as the party’s main leader — even if there are more tensions between the moderate wing and the far-right wing that Trump helped embolden and that is now taking on a life of its own (as seen in its refusal to support McCarthy earlier this year, even as Trump made calls trying to get them to support McCarthy’s bid). For the time being, though, Trump remains the Republican Party’s kingmaker (and kingbreaker).
Among the issues the new Speaker will take on are the approval of the federal budget, which is due to expire on November 17, and Biden’s proposed international aid package, which includes aid for Israel and Ukraine. There are already signs of continued tension within the Republican Party: for example, Johnson favors separating the funding for Ukraine and Israel, and he wants to vote on them separately. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, however, has been vocal about his desire to keep them together. How these tensions will develop remains to be seen, but it is clear that the Republican civil war is far from over, even if it has become more latent after Johnson’s election.
As Johnson said, “You will see an aggressive agenda in the coming days and weeks,” as he works to meet the delayed strategic needs of U.S. imperialism amid the Israeli offensive against Gaza, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and the pending shutdown.
Yet there is one area where Johnson and the whole Republican Party are united, not just with one another but also with Biden and the Democrats: their support for the Zionist state of Israel. The two parties and both wings of the Republican Party show no difference in their unconditional support for the genocide currently being carried out by Israel.
A Crisis at the Top amid Mobilizations from Below
The crises racking the U.S. Congress are expressions of the general organic crisis, which has also been expressed in the Biden administration and in the bipartisan system as a whole. This can be seen not only in the crisis of the speakership but also in the conviction of dozens of leaders of the organizations that led the Capitol’s takeover and the charges against Trump himself. These situations of instability and crisis aggravate the scenario, showing the rottenness of this capitalist system.While a right-wing crisis brews at the top, workers are standing up as part of a growing labor movement — particularly young workers who are part of a generation forged in the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement. Across the United States, people are joining the struggle against Israel’s genocide against Palestinians. These could be the seeds of a new socialist organization that will throw off the yoke of the Democratic Party and find a way to the masses, politically organizing the vanguard to propose an alternative to capitalism. We are in a moment when the conditions of the imperialist world order are being disrupted, and we must use this moment to prepare for the disruptions that are already here and those that are to come. It’s our task to prepare for the fights ahead. To fight not only the likes of Mike Johnson and the Far Right but also the Democrats — who are in lockstep behind a genocide. For this fight, we need to begin the steps to build our own political organization to face the bipartisan regime head on.