Norm Ornstein on the GOP's embrace of radical Christian nationalism
"Mike Johnson might blow up in their faces."
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The elevation of Mike Johnson to House speaker is one of the clearest illustrations yet of how the Republican Party has become more extreme in the eight years since Donald Trump took it over. Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, is no moderate, but his record seems downright liberal compared to Johnson’s long history of Christofascist extremism.
RELATED FROM PN: The Christofascism of Mike Johnson
The question becomes: How much further right will the Republican Party go, and how will voters respond next year? To get some expert insight on this, Public Notice contributor Thor Benson connected with legendary political scientist Norm Ornstein, emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Ornstein has been a public intellectual for nearly 50 years. If nothing else, you probably know him from twitter, where he’s recently been sharing some spicy (and accurate) takes about the new speaker.
He and Benson discussed the increasing extremism of the GOP, what’s next for the party, and how all of this might affect the 2024 election. Ornstein cautioned that Johnson’s radical Christian nationalism could backfire on Republicans, but also noted that there’s a significant swath of Republicans who share the new speaker’s worldview.
“Obviously, there’s a Republican base that still believes strongly in what Johnson represents,” Ornstein said. “It’s a cult.”
A transcript of their discussion, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
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Do you see Johnson’s elevation as an indication that Republicans are going to keep getting more extreme while pushing out anyone who’s willing to compromise?
That will definitely be the case unless there is serious punishment at the polls. One of the problems is the Republicans who are driving the extremism tend to be from districts they have completely locked down. Many of them, of course, are wildly gerrymandered. Jim Jordan’s being one example, and Marjorie Taylor Greene’s being another. The only real exception to that is Lauren Boebert.
Whatever moderates existed are long gone. The ones who you would call more pragmatic tend to be the ones who are from the shakier districts. That’s been a problem for a while, but it’s growing worse and worse. But the other caveat here is Mike Johnson might blow up in their faces.
It could happen not just because of his wildly extreme, Christian nationalist, theocratic views, but also because we’re now seeing that as a backbencher in the Louisiana legislature he did stuff that is either questionable or could be criminal and was just ignored. That includes his deanship at a university that lost its accreditation when he was there and had some questionable financial transactions.
This is a guy who, as a lawyer, earned large sums of money. For one, he exploited a loophole in the ethics laws in Louisiana and got $400,000 for his legal defense of a law restricting abortion that he had helped enact.
He made a lot of money, but he says he has no assets and no bank account. There’s something really smelly there. Nobody paid attention to it when he was just a congressman from a safe district in Louisiana who nobody outside of his district or the Republican caucus had heard of. But now he’s the speaker of the House. I gotta believe ProPublica and lots of other outfits are digging into this.
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