Mike Johnson and Donald Trump’s marriage of convenience

The two are now in an ironclad union — and divorce is not an option

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Tuesday 14 May 2024 20:03
Hush money trial ‘weaponised’ against Trump, speaker Johnson claims

On Tuesday, Mike Johnson — the pious born-again Christian who uses an app that notifies him when his son watches porn (and vice versa) — appeared in public with Donald Trump, the man who faces a legal trial stemming back to his attempts to allegedly pay an adult film actress hush money.

Johnson, the Republican speaker of the House, said he came to New York as a “friend” to the former president. He then attacked District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Judge Juan Merchan, and the judge’s daughter — all of which the court has prohibited Trump from doing under the threat of a gag order. Who needs to be gagged when you have such proxies?

Of course, Johnson is not the only Republican who made the pilgrimage to Manhattan to defend Trump. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, Ohio Senator JD Vance, Florida Senator Rick Scott and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy have all traveled to the city to show their solidarity with the former president and endear themselves to MAGA. The fact that this could clearly earn them a running-mate slot has made some describe these New York pilgrimages as veepstakes.

But Johnson’s decision to come up to New York is different. Unlike the Republican hopefuls, he already has the top slot in Congress (after being a backbencher for much of his brief tenure in the House of Representatives.) His decision is just the latest movement in an odd marriage of convenience between the highest-ranking elected Republican and the de facto GOP leader. It offers an eye-opening preview into how they might lead together during a Trump presidency.

Contrary to the common belief that Johnson emerged from nowhere this year, he and Trump both came to Washington in 2017, albeit via different paths. Trump, a former Democrat from New York City who bragged about his sexual dalliances, staged a hostile takeover of the Republican Party on the back of anti-establishment anger and anti-immigrant xenophobia. Johnson worked his way up the evangelical conservative ladder, serving as an attorney for the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Johnson continued to quietly move up the ranks in the party, serving as chairman of the Republican Study Committee — a job once occupied by Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence — and as the top Republican in the amicus brief to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

That latter move solidified Johnson’s status in MAGA world. Meanwhile, Trump’s nomination of the three Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v Wade endeared the former president to Johnson, as it did many evangelicals. Indeed, the day of the Dobbs v Jackson decision, I caught Johnson in Congress and he was absolutely ebullient.

That mutually beneficial relationship came in handy in October of last year when, amid the fracas to nominate a new Republican speaker, Johnson emerged. After his initial pick, Jim Jordan failed, Trump tanked House Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s bid to become speaker — and then gave Johnson his full blessing.

Since then, the two have worked together quite easily. Johnson played a major role in killing the bipartisan foreign aid-immigration package that the Senate negotiated and he endorsed Trump earlier than many of his colleagues. This would define the contours of Johnson and Trump’s agreement: Johnson would provide Trump political ammo — indeed, Johnson called the trial in New York “election interference” — while Trump would offer Johnson his policy wins on social conservative brass rings like abortion.

But the true test of their union came when Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Trump acolyte from Georgia and well-known conspiracy-monger, filed her motion to vacate. That could’ve tanked Johnson’s speakership just as it began. But surprisingly to almost everyone, Trump sided with Johnson, saying that he was “doing a very good job.”

Johnson’s loyalty to Trump seems to have paid even bigger dividends than he could have imagined. Not only did Trump fail to turn against Johnson when he put a bill to potentially ban TikTok to the floor despite Trump’s opposition, or when he put a standalone Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan aid bill to the floor, but he also continued to defend Johnson after Democrats said they would bail him out in a motion to vacate.

All of these sins against the whims of Trump would have felled a lesser Republican leader. Just ask Kevin McCarthy or Mitch McConnell on the Senate side. Yet Trump’s defense of the speaker significantly weakened Marjorie Taylor Greene and empowered Johnson. Clearly, the former president likes having Johnson around.

All of this makes Johnson’s seemingly strange decision to act as Trump’s wingman in Manhattan seem reasonable, even if Trump’s phone history would probably make the polite Johnson’s phone blow up with notifications. The speaker is holding up his end of the bargain.

And that should also make Democrats worried. For the past few weeks, Democrats have praised Johnson for doing the right thing, however late, for finally putting aid to Ukraine on the floor. They showed their gratitude by saving him from the humiliation to which they subjected McCarthy: a motion to vacate.

But Johnson’s appearance with Trump shows where his loyalties lie. They also show exactly how he would enforce the Trump agenda, should Trump re-assume the White House.

Johnson has shown that what started as a marriage of convenience is now an ironclad union for which divorce is not an option. Indeed, that makes sense, given the speaker’s dislike of no-fault divorce.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in