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Johnson’s Courthouse Campaign

mike johnson
While being a cheerleader at Trump’s trial may keep Johnson in his good graces, his real motivation, of course, was to signal to restless lawmakers back in Washington that he can still straddle the Republican party’s increasingly multiplying factions. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
May 15, 2024

In between passing budgets, stiff-arming the Freedom Caucus, dodging Marjorie Taylor Greene’s attempted motion-to-vacate, and trying to sell himself as Congress’s great bipartisan hope, Mike Johnson has a new habit of “checking in” at political hot zones where House speakers historically do not go. A few weeks back, he popped up at Columbia University to condemn the pro-Palestinian protests and call for the resignation of the school’s president. Yesterday, he turned up at Trump’s criminal trial in lower Manhattan, leading a chorus of other high profile “surrogates” (Trump’s words) including Vivek and J.D. Vance, all wearing the Trump uniform of blue suits and red ties, to decry the ex-president’s prosecution. In a speech without precedent for a sitting speaker, Johnson opined from the courthouse steps that the judicial system is “corrupt” and the hush money case against Trump is a “sham.”

While being a cheerleader at Trump’s trial may keep Johnson in his good graces, his real motivation, of course, was to signal to restless lawmakers back in Washington that he can still straddle the Republican party’s increasingly multiplying factions: the mainline establishment types, dyed-in-the-wool activists among the G.O.P.’s professional class, the MAGA populists who are trying to tear those other groups down, the extremely online influencer class, and so forth. Back in Reagan’s day, the coalition was referred to as a “three-legged stool.” These days, “it’s more of a beanbag,” joked a Johnson aide. “You could sit on it a hundred different ways.”