Mike Johnson’s Finest Hour will Enrage MAGA Republicans

MAGA GOP Marjorie Taylor Greene
April 18, 2024 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Blog Brand: Politics Tags: U.S. PoliticsPoliticsDonald TrumpMike JohnsonGOPMAGA

Mike Johnson’s Finest Hour will Enrage MAGA Republicans

In assisting Ukraine at a moment of great peril and jeopardizing his own position, Johnson is displaying a fortitude that appears to elude a number of his brethren. This is Mike Johnson’s finest hour.

Is House Speaker Mike Johnson a MAGA or Reagan Republican? In speaking to CNN, Johnson came down firmly on the side of the latter. “I’m a child of the ‘80s,” he recently said. “Peace through strength.” That was the credo of Ronald Reagan who sought to fund insurgencies around the globe, ranging from Africa to Central America, to combat the Soviet Union’s imperial aspirations.

Over the past several months, however, Johnson, who ascended to the House speakership after Rep. Matt Gaetz and other MAGA acolytes toppled Kevin McCarthy, has been reluctant publicly to embrace aid to Ukraine. The costs have been high as Russia goes on the offensive and wages a campaign of air terror against Kyiv. But Johnson’s waiting game appears to have allowed him to outmaneuver the hardline faction. Even Donald Trump, who claims that he could solve the Ukraine crisis in 24 hours, made conciliatory noises about extending aid to Ukraine in the form of a loan when Johnson visited him at Mar-a-Lago.

Johnson is now proposing a trifecta of bills for aid to Israel, the Indo-Pacific and Ukraine. It is not dissimilar to the Senate aid bill and the tab comes to $95 billion. For the Ultramontanist wing of the GOP, Johnson’s endorsement of aid to Ukraine amounts to apostasy. “It’s surrender, it’s disappointing, I won’t support it,” Matt Gaetz declared. “I don’t know how long people are going to tolerate this,” Marjorie Taylor Greene observed. Greene has introduced a motion to vacate that is being seconded by Thomas Massie who announced on X: “He should pre-announce his resignation (as Boehner did), so we can pick a new Speaker without ever being without a GOP speaker.” Who would become the next speaker was left unsaid. Given the contortions that the GOP went through to land upon a new speaker after McCarthy was exiled from power, it would likely take weeks for the House Republicans to settle upon a new candidate.

Johnson, you could say, is pursuing his personal policy of peace through strength. He needs to defang the far-right by winning passage of these bills or his speakership is pretty much over before it even began. If he balked at Ukraine aid, he would be at the mercy of the Freedom Caucus for the rest of his tenure—a puppet speaker.

But there is more to it than that. In risking his speakership, Johnson is also taking the morally responsible course. Even as Republicans such as Marjorie Taylor Greene cavort with the Kremlin, earning her the sobriquet “Moscow Marjorie,” Johnson is well-aware of the punishing costs of the Russian assault both in human and strategic terms. Greene told Steve Bannon during a podcast that Russia is “not attacking Christianity. As a matter of fact, they seem to be protecting it.” This is false. Russia has murdered at least 30 Ukrainian religious leader and is holding dozens of others captive. Russia regularly tortures the priests that it abducts, accusing them of being American spies. These are not isolated incidents but part of a systematic policy to crush Ukraine into submission.

It would be easy for Johnson to capitulate as well. But he isn’t. Melinda Haring, a senior advisor at Razom, notes, “Johnson has pledged to put Ukraine aid on the House floor, risking his position as speaker. He’s putting principle over politics, and what a refreshing move it is. May we all have courage of Esther.”

The parallel is not inapt. In assisting Ukraine at a moment of great peril and jeopardizing his own position, Johnson is displaying a fortitude that appears to elude a number of his brethren. This is Mike Johnson’s finest hour.

About the Author: Jacob Heilbrunn

Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of The National Interest and is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He has written on both foreign and domestic issues for numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, Reuters, Washington Monthly, and The Weekly Standard. He has also written for German publications such as Cicero, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Der Tagesspiegel. In 2008, his book They Knew They Were Right: the Rise of the Neocons was published by Doubleday. It was named one of the one hundred notable books of the year by The New York Times. He is the author of America Last: The Right’s Century-Long Romance with Foreign Dictators.

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