By Wednesday morning, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who initiated the House Republicans' speaker debacle, was already celebrating the impending elevation of a MAGA election denier as the next speaker of the House.
"If you don't think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement and where the power in the Republican Party truly lies, then you're not paying attention," Gaetz gushed on Steve Bannon's podcast "War Room."
Gaetz isn't wrong. Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana ha been a quintessential pro-Trump, pro-insurrectionist flamethrower from the word “go.”
As CBS News' Robert Costa tweeted:
Important to know: Johnson was deeply involved in efforts to keep Trump in power starting immediately after 2020 election. Early Nov. 2020. I know because I spent months reporting on that period and he was part of letters and behind-scenes efforts with key outside groups. I’ve talked with key sources from that time about how Johnson — then all but unknown — worked with allied Trump groups and conservative leaders in a coordinated way to make sure that whole orbit was working together to help Trump.
Now, with Johnson officially in control of the gavel, the MAGA wing of the Republican Party will have forced their will on the majority of House Republicans who would have preferred someone more moderate, such as Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, a member of leadership who voted to certify the 2020 election. That's why a cohesive group of House GOP members with at least a toehold in reality coordinated their votes to doom the speaker bid of Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Jordan built his career on trying to destroy the institution he worked in, engineering the exit of at least semi-reasonable Republican speakers-past, such as Rep. John Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
So why did Republicans coalesce around Johnson, a democracy subverter in the mold of Jordan? Here are two potential reasons: Johnson, who began his first term in 2017, has had a decade less time to amass the number of enemies that Jordan has since joining the House in 2007.
Second, and equally as important, the relatively saner members of the House Republican caucus probably came to a simple conclusion: They would have to settle for an election denier as their leader because Trump and his MAGA allies would never let anyone else through. Trump runs the party, and the speakership runs through him. Trump single-handedly doomed Emmer's speaker bid precisely because he voted to certify the 2020 election.
So the choice for the Republican realists was either elect a MAGA election denier or work with Democrats to elect someone who hasn’t been an outright subverter of American democracy. And to do that, it would have meant placing the country over their own electoral ambitions because any Republican realist in a red district surely would have drawn a primary opponent.
The takeaways of a Johnson speakership are simple: The MAGA wing of the Republican Party, having beaten down the so-called GOP moderates, is running the joint, leaving the Sen. Mitch McConnell wing of the party on an island taking incoming fire from all sides.
Moderate House Republicans can never again be counted on to moderate their MAGA allies, because those MAGA allies would sooner burn down the House, so to speak, than let saner forces run it. In other words, moderates in pursuit of governance will never outmaneuver MAGA nihilists.
But the worst is yet to come. Under the leadership of Johnson, anti-democracy Republicans will surely provide a mesmerizing display of pyrotechnics aimed at destroying functional democracy both at home and abroad.