Trump is inserting himself into the messy race to become the next House speaker. Will it matter?

Date:

BY STEPHEN GROVES AND JILL COLVIN

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump is again testing the power of his endorsement.

With an early morning social media post on Friday, Trump inserted himself into the chaotic race to replace Kevin McCarthy as House speaker by backing Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan for the post. The move was the latest example of Trump attempting to flex his influence within a Republican Party he has already fundamentally reshaped in the eight years since his first White House bid.

“I think he does well. I hope he does well,” Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination, said of Jordan in a Friday interview with Real America’s Voice. “He’s got competition, as you understand. And they’re friendly with me, too. Very nice people and good people. We’ll see what happens.”

With Trump’s firm grip on the GOP base, his endorsement can effectively clear the field in many congressional primaries. But the speaker’s race is more complex, an intraparty fight that will play out in secret at points and in a tense environment with many Republicans furious about McCarthy’s ouster. Jordan is facing at least one other candidate — House Majority Leader Steve Scalise — who is also on good terms with Trump. It’s unclear whether anyone has enough votes to win the gavel and if Jordan were to lose, another Trump ally could emerge.

Taken together, the dynamics mean that Trump’s backing of Jordan may do little to sway the results. And that may not ultimately matter much.

Regardless of who becomes the next speaker, Trump has undeniable sway over House Republicans. It was his supporters — led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz — who orchestrated McCarthy’s ouster and who have driven much of the House GOP’s agenda. They have been unable or unwilling to pull themselves from his grip and now find themselves heading toward another presidential election with him at the top of the ticket, even as many in the party worry about his electability in November and his potential impact on down-ballot races.

But other factors are at play in the complicated deliberations. Speaker’s elections are contests that can turn on personal relationships and deals between lawmakers that fall outside ideological lines.

It also remains unclear how much political capital Trump intends to use whipping votes on Jordan’s behalf. While Trump was poised to support Jordan, he was angry that Texas Rep. Troy Nehls broke the news before he was ready, according to two Republicans familiar with his thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A Trump spokesman did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Trump’s 11th-hour interventions helped McCarthy win the speakership after 15 rounds of voting back in January, but the holdouts in that case were Trump allies. This time most hardline conservatives were already lining up behind Jordan.

Instead, Jordan has been courting Republican moderates, trying to convince them that they will be heard if he is elected, despite his reputation as a hard-liner. Trump’s endorsement ties Jordan even closer to the former president, potentially making it more difficult for moderate members to support him.

For his part, Jordan said the endorsement would aid his bid for the gavel.

“He’s the leader of our party, and I think he’s going to be the next president,” Jordan told reporters Friday at the Capitol.

Beyond the immediate dynamics on Capitol Hill, Trump’s involvement in the speaker’s race speaks to his outsized role in the party. More than three months before the first votes of the 2024 campaign, Republicans are increasingly open in referring to Trump as the party’s leader. That’s despite the fact that he faces four separate criminal indictments.

And as he appears once again in a strong position to capture the GOP nomination, Trump’s penchant for the spotlight is on display.

After creating a media firestorm Monday when he showed up at his civil fraud trial in New York, Trump quickly jumped on the speakership news that threatened to shift attention from his direction. After several of his closest allies raised the fanciful notion that Trump himself could potentially serve as speaker — perhaps on an interim basis — Trump stoked and flirted with the notion of swooping in to save the leaderless caucus from the chaos he has helped to stoke.

“A lot of people have been calling me about speaker. All I can say is we’ll do whatever’s best for the country and for the Republican Party,” Trump told reporters at the courthouse Wednesday.

He later told Fox News Digital that he would be open to serving 30 to 90 days in the role.

Trump was soon planning a trip to Capitol Hill where he planned to address Republicans at a closed-door candidate forum — a trip first reported by The Messenger — that would have marked his first visit to the building since the violence of Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters stormed the building trying to overturn the election he lost to President Joe Biden.

That trip is no longer expected, according to Nehls and others familiar with the plans.

Jordan has long been one of Trump’s biggest champions on the Hill. He has led investigations into prosecutors who have charged the former president with criminal conduct and has been helping lead efforts to impeach Biden.

Ahead of Jan. 6, he helped Trump strategize about how Congress could help Trump overturn his loss to Biden. In return, Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — five days after the attack on the Capitol.

Scalise, a veteran member of leadership who is also vying for the speaker’s gavel, has support from a significant portion of the Republican Conference, while other GOP lawmakers are either looking elsewhere or waiting to make their choices known.

Trump’s involvement in the House GOP’s upheaval comes just as Republican leaders have been trying to tamp down the drama and soothe tempers. On Friday, a planned Fox News debate between the candidates was called off. Republicans are also trying to avoid the spectacle of a protracted speaker’s contest by finding a consensus candidate in closed-door meetings next week.

However, many are bracing for a dayslong contest. The last time they all gathered in the same room — shortly after McCarthy was removed as speaker — insults were hurled and some lawmakers even thought it could turn to blows.

The contest had been dominated by three lawmakers seen as loyal to Trump: Jordan, Scalise and Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern each voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. On Saturday, Hern decided not to seek the job, saying in a statement that House Republicans “must unify — and do it fast. It’s clear to me that a three-man race … will only draw this process out longer, creating further division, which would make it harder for any candidate” to win the required number of votes.

That allegiance to Trump by Jordan and Scalise could prove useful to Trump if he wins. Trump’s agenda while in office was often thwarted by congressional leaders from his own party as he clashed with then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

In the years since leaving the White House, Trump has broken from past precedent and endorsed hundreds of like-minded candidates, hoping to fill the House and Senate with lawmakers who share his America First outlook should he become president again.

Trump made clear his ultimate goal earlier this week when he wrote on his Truth Social site that he would “do whatever is necessary to help with the Speaker of the House selection process, short term, until the final selection of a GREAT REPUBLICAN SPEAKER is made – A Speaker who will help a new, but highly experienced President, ME, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

___ Colvin reported from New York. AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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