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If there's one thing Donald Trump values above all else in his nebulous cadre of associates and assistants, it's loyalty. According to former FBI Director James Comey, Trump insisted that "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty" during their now infamous meetings at the onset of the former president's administration. Trump's "need for loyalty and his incessant demands for it" became "hallmark characteristics of his presidency," The Washington Post's Paul Waldman said in 2018, adding prophetically that not only did this encompass his immediate staff and employees, but "Republicans in Congress and the entire GOP," as well.
Now, in the immediate aftermath of the unprecedented ouster of former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the intra-party chaos that's followed, Trump has waded into the contentious race for the speaker's gavel, giving Ohio Republican Jim Jordan his characteristic "Complete & Total Endorsement!" in a Truth Social post focused largely on Jordan's high school and college athletic record. While Trump had previously been "open to pitching himself as a speaker candidate," according to Politico, his endorsement of Jordan has instead added to the GOP "speaker drama," Roll Call reported, noting Jordan's record as a "leading Trump supporter in Congress."
Although not the first time Trump has waded into a GOP leadership battle, the former president's endorsement comes at a particularly fraught time for both the party and himself. With that in mind, is there perhaps more to Trump's support for Jordan beyond his stated belief that the congressman will be "a GREAT Speaker of the House"?
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What the commentators said
Trump's endorsement is an effort to "cast himself as kingmaker and to steal the spotlight for himself," according to CNN's Stephen Collinson, who pointed out that Jordan is one of the former president's "most loyal attack dogs" and one who plays a "key role in an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden." With Trump's backing, a Jordan speakership would likely "augur a new period of fierce combat with the White House" just as Republican presidential candidates — among whom Trump holds a dominating lead — intensify their attacks on the Biden administration ahead of the 2024 general election. As Roll Call noted, Jordan not only "served on Trump’s congressional defense team in his first impeachment trial," but has since "used his perch on the Judiciary Committee to challenge prosecutors who have indicted Trump."
By backing Jordan, Trump may have also hoped to stave off any personal embarrassment from a failed speaker bid of his own. Trump's allies encouraged the former president to walk back his openness to serving as speaker by arguing it "would backfire," according to Politico. Not only would he likely lose against seasoned representatives like Jordan and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), but "since the nomination process is done by secret ballot" many lawmakers would likely vote against him, knowing their identities would be kept hidden. Moreover, "the tallies are publicly released, meaning Trump could be embarrassed by a poor showing."
At a recent event at the University of Minnesota, longtime Trump foil and former Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney highlighted the allegedly conspiratorial partnership between Jordan and the former president. Though she predicted Jordan wouldn't win the speakership, she stressed that her one-time colleague had played a key role in Trump's efforts to subvert the 2020 election by knowing "more about what Donald Trump had planned for Jan. 6 than any other member of the House of Representatives." That closeness may again come down to Trump's need for loyalty, having "watched as Jordan has defended him over the years," The Washington Post reported. Crucially, explained one Trump adviser, Jordan "hasn’t had one of those moments where he’s gotten crosswise with the president."
Although Trump's endorsement "moves the needle significantly" for Jordan, according to CNN's Kasie Hunt, the congressman is by no means a lock for the speakership. In calls to colleagues, Rep. Scalise "emphasized that he is second only to Mr. McCarthy in fund-raising prowess" for the party, The New York Times reported. Jordan, meanwhile, must "convince more mainstream Republicans that he can govern and not simply tear things down" — particularly among moderates who "fear voters in their districts will be alienated by Trump on the top of the ticket in 2024," according to CNN.
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