By all accounts, Republicans are set for a landslide victory in this year’s midterms. This has less to do with their own accomplishments in Congress, if any, and stems exclusively from the Biden Administration’s many failures over its first year. From the twin collapses of Afghanistan and Build Back Better, to heavy inflation and threats of war in Ukraine, the president’s approval ratings have taken a nosedive. A majority of Americans doubt his mental fitness for the job and two-thirds don’t want him to run again. With a litany of foreign policy failures in Ukraine and Afghanistan–coupled with rising crime and nationwide inflation, voters have soured on progressive policies of defunding the police and a ‘Green New Deal’ – still chuntered relentlessly by AOC and the Democratic Left.
To say that things look “bleak” would be a massive understatement. Come November, Democrats will probably face what Barack Obama described as a “shellacking” in 2010 – losing the House and the Senate. If things are bad for Biden now, they’ll get much worse once he loses both chambers, and make for the weakest incumbency since Jimmy Carter as he heads into re-election.
If anyone is happy about this, it’s the elephant outside the room where it’s happened. Since leaving office, former President Donald Trump has bashed Biden on these issues while he consolidates power in the GOP, positioning himself for a third run in 2024. His strategy seems to be working. Mar-a-Lago is a pilgrimage for any Republican to win their primary, and Trump’s PACs are raising hundreds of millions to play kingmaker in key races this year. At the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual con-fab for the American right, Trump (yet again) beat out all prospective presidential candidates with an absolute majority and wide margin. With anti-Trump Republicans now bowing out of politics (e.g., Adam Kinzinger, Pat Toomey and Anthony Gonzalez) or headed for defeat (Liz Cheney), the truth is clear. For all practical purposes, the GOP is Trump’s party, and it will be Trump’s Congress come 2023.
Trump would be wise to take advantage of this fact, and assert his control over the GOP more formally as Speaker of the House of Representatives. As wild an idea as it may seem, wielding the Speaker’s gavel – two heartbeats away from the presidency – would give him several advantages as he pursues the Republican nomination in 2024. It’s a move perfectly in-line with the Trump brand: thrilling his supporters, enraging his rivals and surprising everyone with bombast. For all we know, he might be considering it already.
At the outset, it’s hard to think that Trump would want the job, which traditionally involves brokering legislation, haggling over procedure, and managing a raucous GOP conference (even one he helped elect). The Speakership has long been termed the “worst job in Washington” for these career-ending reasons (e.g., Paul Ryan and John Boehner). Trump, however, has bulldozed traditions before to suit his style, and largely gotten away with it. If the presidency was fair game, the Speakership is no match. By leaving the routine tasks of caucus management to Kevin McCarthy as Majority Leader (somewhat akin to the Senate system), Trump as Speaker could sidestep convention while using the job to further his political fortunes.
The merits are assured. Being Speaker would exalt Trump back to the centre stage of national politics. Being a former president has undeniably placed him on the media periphery for the last two years. Wielding the House gavel, by contrast, would give Trump a high office and unrivalled position to lead national opposition to the Biden Administration. By touting their failures with a bully pulpit in Congress and frustrating their legislative agenda with his powers as Speaker, Trump could cement himself as the political foil to Joe Biden and the Democrats in a prelude to the 2024 campaign. If Biden doesn’t reverse his fortunes, it’s a contrast akin to 2020 that voters will start to miss.
Indeed, the Speakership’s visibility can return Trump an essential political asset: the power to shape the news cycle and, by extension, the political landscape to his advantage. It’s what he did in 2016, as an outsider, to reset the Republican primary on his own terms. He used the free media coverage of his controversial bid to raise pet issues such as trade and immigration to the top of the agenda. No longer president and removed from social media, Trump lacks the kind of perch that could enable such news-cycle manipulation. As Speaker of the House, with a constant media spotlight, he could regain it – running circles around mainstream media as they chase his every statement while he shapes issues to his advantage.
At any rate, however, being Speaker would enable Trump to wield his biggest resource: his base, which is excited by the mere presence of Trump on the scene and his political belligerence in “owning the libs” and creating chaos. It would be politics as entertainment, again. . The thought, for instance, of Trump in the Speaker’s chair right behind Joe Biden, whose election he tried to overturn, during the State of the Union (in the Capitol building his supporters stormed) is bizarre to imagine. It’s also the kind of bald provocation in which grassroots Republicans delight. To that end, every day of Trump’s Speakership would keep the momentum of nine-figure fundraising and grassroots enthusiasm in the year-long run up to the Iowa caucuses. More importantly, it could displace the news-cycle incredibly and all but eclipse Republican rivals (e.g., Ron DeSantis, Chris Christie, or Mike Pence) who might challenge him for the nomination.
For the plan to work, however, Trump must be elected Speaker without winning a House seat. The Constitution allows this: Article 1, Section 2 places no limitations on who may hold the job, merely stating that the Speaker must be chosen by the House. In fact, running for a seat might even kill the move before it begins. Though Trump could easily win a seat of his choosing in deep-red strongholds across the country, it may allow Democrats to side-step their failures and excite their base about Trump’s return to politics. Any move to make Trump the Speaker will have to be after the midterms, once votes are cast irreversibly. Winning support of the GOP Conference and overcoming McCarthy’s opposition, thereafter, wouldn’t be a problem.
There are certainly risks to the plan. Trump on Capitol Hill would give Democrats an easy scapegoat for the failure to enact their agenda: accusing him of obstructing them. Moreover, his lingering obsession with the 2020 election’s results may end up offering Democrats a stick to beat the GOP with in 2024, as they try to permanently tie the party to January 6th and the fringe politics of conspiracy. However, if one knows anything about Trump, it’s that conventional risks don’t hurt him. Ever the survivor, Trump has weathered far worse and emerged far better than most would expect. As he prepares to run again, the Speaker’s gavel will allow Trump to hammer clear a pathway to re-election. It’s his for the taking. Whether or not he’ll seize it, nobody except Trump knows for sure.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above do not reflect the political stance of ALMA.