The War Room’s Speaker Victory

Rep. Mike Johnson speaks alongside fellow House Republicans after he was elected as the Republican Speaker nominee during a conference meeting on October 24, 2023. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Johnson’s election as speaker of the House Wednesday was a rare feat for the Make America Great Again movement: a clear victory. After weeks of mayhem that made House Republicans look ungovernable, the loose collection of populists aligned with and empowered by Donald Trump appeared to have settled for a win that reaffirms the GOP’s metamorphosis.

Johnson’s ascension comes after the MAGA movement successfully removed the previous Republican speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy. It follows the organized efforts to stop two of the party’s three nominees to succeed McCarthy, Reps. Steve Scalise and Tom Emmer. All three were deemed too spoiled by Washington, too willing to cut spending deals with Democrats. (In reality, with such a narrow Republican majority and Democratic control of both the Senate and White House, compromising with Democrats is part of this speaker’s job description.) And the other failed speaker nominee, the hard-charging, MAGA-friendly Rep. Jim Jordan, was stopped by a rump of institutionalist Republicans who appear to have only delayed the inevitable: a speaker who reflects the conference’s conservative populism and fealty to Trump, but who also seems ready to govern. 

Johnson, now in his fourth term in the House, apparently fits the bill. He is known internally for promoting conservative policies on abortion and same-sex marriage, yet is regarded highly even by his more socially moderate colleagues as a trustworthy person. His most notable act before becoming speaker was as the architect of an amicus brief in January 2021 supporting a Texas lawsuit to throw out the 2020 presidential election results in four states won by Joe Biden—a last-ditch effort to block the counting of the electoral votes. The work earned him plenty of MAGA credibility, and while he is friendly with the populist, pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus, he isn’t a member. Instead, Johnson gravitated toward the wonkier Republican Study Committee, chairing the conservative caucus from 2019 to 2021.

Johnson now faces the headwinds similar to those McCarthy faced, with divided government and a looming spending deadline on November 17. But for the moment, the power players of the MAGA movement are ecstatic about what they have achieved in the fight for leadership of the Republican party. 

Trump himself offered his congratulations to Johnson both in a post on Truth Social and in a statement before the cameras outside the Manhattan courtroom where he is currently on trial in a civil case. “Nobody was thinking of Mike, and then we put out the word and now he’s the speaker of the House,” Trump said Wednesday. “So I want to just thank all of the supporters that I have and I want to thank all of the supporters that Mike has.”

Trump’s former White House aide, Steve Bannon, was declaring “mission accomplished” even before the floor vote.

“You have delivered,” Bannon said on his War Room broadcast Wednesday morning. “You have broken—remember, with all of that, and all of that apparatus that has been 10 or 12 years in the making, from the Young Guns, made by the [GOP strategist and McCarthy ally] Jeff Millers of the world, the lobbyists, the people that are hardwired into Silicon Valley, hardwired into the paymasters of Wall Street. You have broken that. Is it perfect? No, but it’s pretty damn good.”

More than even Trump, Bannon gives voice to the MAGA movement on his daily broadcast. War Room airs twice a day on the right-wing network Real America’s Voice. It’s a kind of headquarters for a movement that seeks to rid the Republican party of any insufficiently pro-Trump elements. 

The program frequently features MAGA luminaries as guests, including MyPillow creator Mike Lindell and Mike Flynn, the retired Army general and short-lived national security adviser for Trump who regularly promotes conspiracy theories. Bannon periodically reads out the numbers of the switchboards in the House and Senate, encouraging his audience to keep “working” to forward the movement by making their voices heard. He uses specific jargon about the “uniparty” or the “cartel” controlling things in Washington, laying out in detail how events will unfold in the ongoing battle between the establishment and the MAGA movement.

“Every day is going to be a fight,” he said Wednesday.

While it’s hard to nail down viewing and listening numbers for War Room—the network is available on several cable, satellite, and streaming TV platforms—it has an audience on Capitol Hill. The show’s jargon, such as referring to the two major party establishments as the “uniparty” or the “cartel,” has filtered down into the vernacular of Republican House members. Among those listening: Republican aides who follow Bannon’s pronouncements and closely monitor the MAGA movement’s field marshals in Congress.

Chief among those field marshals is Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose initial motion to vacate the chair of the speaker at the beginning of the month started the process that eventually led to Johnson’s ascension in the House. 

Gaetz joined Bannon Wednesday morning, before the final speaker vote, to both take and share the credit for what was about to culminate. Gaetz praised Johnson as “MAGA Mike” and indicated this was a fulfilling end to the process he began by knifing McCarthy earlier this month. The Florida Republican also made sure to give a shoutout to those loyal members of the MAGA movement.

“I have to start by thanking the War Room posse,” said Gaetz. “This would not have happened without you.”

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