The most powerful Democrat in the House is Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiStacey Plaskett becomes first non-voting delegate in history to serve as impeachment manager The Memo: New riot footage stuns Trump trial GOP leaders on three committees push Pelosi on stimulus markups MORE (D-Calif.), an avowed liberal. Across the aisle, the most powerful Republican may be Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJim Jordan: Rising power on the right? In Marjorie Taylor Greene, a glimpse of the future Republicans rally to keep Cheney in power MORE (R-Ohio), a mini-Trump more into vitriol than policy.
The eight-term Ohio lawmaker is the leading attack dog among the large bloc of right-wing House Republicans. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyLincoln Project drops ad mid-impeachment trial targeting Republicans over Capitol riot Jim Jordan: Rising power on the right? Greene’s popularity among Republicans rises since vote to strip her of committee assignments MORE (R-Calif.) seems always to be looking over his right shoulder at the 56-year-old one-time wrestling champion.
During the Obama presidency, Jordan railed about crushing debt, even undercutting the Republican House Speaker, John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJim Jordan: Rising power on the right? Former HHS secretary Sebelius joins marijuana industry group Can members of Congress carry firearms on the Capitol complex? MORE, who calls Jordan a “legislative terrorist.” Jordan’s forte, though, was going after supposed Democratic scandals, ranging from the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservatives to the Obama administration’s supposed duplicity on what happened when the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans were murdered in Libya. These turned out to be faux scandals, but Jordan became a hero to the angry right.
Under Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHillary Clinton: Trump acquittal ‘will be because the jury includes his co-conspirators’ Former Republican officials in talks to form center-right anti-Trump party: report Gaetz hits back at Kinzinger PAC targeting ‘Trumpism’ MORE, the attack dog became the lap dog.
Jordan was the congressional front man trashing the Mueller probe on Russian interference in the 2016 election — and the chief House defender when the president was impeached for threatening Ukraine unless it dished dirt on Joe Biden. The huge increase in debt and deficits under Trump went to the back burner, unnoticed and unremarked.
Jordan’s work was appreciated; Trump gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor usually reserved for Americans of great achievement and service, like Gen. Matthew Ridgeway, Henry Aaron, and Father Theodore Hesburgh.
With President BidenJoe BidenFormer Republican officials in talks to form center-right anti-Trump party: report Biden raises concerns with Xi in first call with Chinese leader as president Castro: Trump further incited the mob ‘against his own vice president’ MORE, Jordan once again will be on the offensive — jacketless, snarling with rapid fire questions, wild charges.
If Republicans take back the House next year, Kevin McCarthy likely will be the next Speaker. Jordan once challenged him for party leader and was clobbered. If the Republicans fail to meet those expectations, McCarthy will be dumped; Jordan will likely make a move to replace him.
Jordan’s clout is not in policy or personal relations — he styles himself a “beer and blue jeans” populist, while voting against working class measures like expanding health care benefits and government-negotiated lower drug prices. Like Trump, Jordan’s power emanates from the media bullhorn, which he uses to arouse the passions of the core base. In the first five weeks of this year, Jordan was on Fox News nine times, almost every week on Lou DobbsLouis (Lou) Carl DobbsJim Jordan: Rising power on the right? Fox Corp. signs Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott to new multiyear deal Fox News labels .7B Smartmatic defamation suit ‘meritless’ in motion to dismiss MORE (who was fired last week), and a half dozen times on the smaller right-wing venue, Newsmax.
He pretty much sticks with friendly right-wing outlets. “Jordan is generally unresponsive to questions that are outside his prepared talking points, which often are hyperbole,” wrote the Sandusky Register, a daily newspaper in Jordan’s congressional district.
He can be vindictive. After unsuccessfully trying to impeach Obama’s IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, he separately chastised a member of a good government group that gave an award to Koskinen, who commands bi-partisan respect. A former Republican staffer on the House Oversight Committee said Jordan and colleagues were guilty of “astounding hypocrisy” after doing a 180-degree turn when Trump assumed office.
That doesn’t matter to the Trump base.
Last year Jordan was a key supporter of Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene — with her racially-tinged QAnon rants and claims of a Jewish laser starting forest fires — in a Republican primary against a conventional conservative. The House last week stripped Greene of her committee assignments.
Jordan has escaped any serious damage from the scandal at Ohio State in which a wrestling team doctor sexually abused more than 150 athletes; Jordan was the assistant coach. At least six of the wrestlers have said Jordan knew about the abuse — even relating specific conversations — and that he did nothing about it.
In a page out of the Trump playbook, Jordan flatly denied any knowledge, said reports were fake and intimated that his accusers were liars with bad motives. He hired a public relations firm to counter the allegations.
He is as popular as ever in his heavily gerrymandered district that zig-zags from the outskirts of Cleveland all the way over to near the Indiana border. It was drawn ten years ago as part of a deal to help Jordan and Marsha Fudge, a black Democrat who has now been tapped for the Biden cabinet. In November, Jordan won overwhelmingly.
Jordan always has been a conservative, but this constantly combative, go-for-the-jugular style reflects ambition and a changing Republican party. Brent Larkin, a Cleveland columnist and former editorial page editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, told me Jordan is different than he was in his 12 years as a state legislator: “I wouldn’t have called him a nice guy, but he wasn’t the demagogic zealot we see today.”
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.
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