Johnson’s extremist agenda is an easy target for Democrats in 2024

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Johnson’s extremist agenda is an easy target for Democrats in 2024

The election of Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) as Speaker of the House provides unparalleled and unexpected opportunities for the Democrats in next year’s midterm election. 

Prior to the GOP’s very public dysfunction, wholly caused by the controversial ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the inability of Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) or Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) to secure enough support, the conventional wisdom had been that Republicans would be well positioned to pick up House seats in 2024.  

However, given the division and polarization that was exposed during the weeks-long fight to elect a new Speaker, and the positions Johnson has previously taken, that advantage, if nothing else, has been reduced by the Republicans acknowledging that the face of their party will now be a man who has taken strong stances against abortion, gay marriage and LGBTQ rights and climate change, while being lukewarm on continued support for Ukraine. 

In that same vein, given that Johnson is an ardent supporter of former President Trump, and was called the “congressional architect of the effort to overturn the 2020 election,” Democrats will almost certainly frame next year’s House races as a race against Donald Trump, Speaker Johnson, and their far-right policies, as they did in 2022, which largely spoiled the “red-wave” many had been expecting. 

To that point, former Republican Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) emphasized the drawbacks of electing a person like Johnson, calling him “dangerous” and saying his willingness to “set aside” the Constitution “in order to placate Donald Trump” makes it “a concerning moment to have him elected Speaker of the House.” 

Put another way, having someone who has cast doubt on the validity of our democratic process and actively took part in the effort to prevent the peaceful transition of power as the most prominent elected Republican official — and third in line to the office of president — is likely going to taint the entire GOP, as Democrats can point to Johnson’s comments on the 2020 election as a significant reason why Republicans should not be trusted to govern.  

One of the things we have seen in prior elections, whether it be back when I worked for Bill Clinton, when we ran our campaign against Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and what we called his extreme policies, or when Republicans have previously framed elections around opposition to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.), the Speaker presents a very big and broad target for the party that is out of power to focus on. 

McCarthy was a less visible target, having been supportive of Trump but not in a way that would allow for an easy campaign of the type Democrats will now likely run. In fact, since 2018, each time Democrats have been able to make the election as a referendum on Donald Trump, they have been successful.  

For his part, Johnson is making Democrats’ job that much easier. His first major piece of legislation, a proposal to take $14 billion from the IRS to pay for emergency support to Israel — excluding support for Ukraine — was, aside from a partisan stunt that is dead on arrival in the Senate, a move that put Johnson on a collision course with Senate Republicans, who have said they want funding for Israel and Ukraine to be linked. 

Further, with just two weeks until the continuing resolution expires on Nov. 17, forcing the government to shut down unless a budget is passed, Johnson can hardly afford to waste time bickering with his own party over Israel and Ukraine. Whether or not Johnson can push through a bill with enough bipartisan support to pass the Senate is a tremendous unknown, but if he cannot, the blame will likely fall entirely on him and House Republicans.  

With all of that in mind, Democrats have their own problems as well, and those may frustrate hopes of an overwhelming victory next November. They are going to be held accountable for inflation, a shaky economy, perceptions of surging crime and the porous southern border, as well as a failure to articulate a plan to move the country forward. 

Moreover, whether it is fair or not, as the party controlling the White House, Democrats will be blamed for the geopolitical situation, with two wars raging with no solution in sight and questions over America’s ability to support our allies while projecting strength around the globe. 

In addition, the active and vocal progressive wing of the Democratic Party, best exemplified by “The Squad” presents a mirror image of the divisions within the GOP. If mainstream Democrats are forced to go on the record defending progressive positions, it may neutralize their attacks tying the entire Republican Party to the policies and words of Donald Trump and his followers. 

Ultimately, this is not to predict that Democrats will turn the election of Johnson into a blue wave that sweeps the House, only to say that the Republican party has potentially seized defeat from the jaws of victory by nominating, then choosing, a far-right speaker who plays into a narrative that proved to doom the party in the 2022 midterms. 

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”