Mike Johnson, the First Proudly Trumpian Speaker

The Capitol Hill Club, in a white brick town house a few blocks from the House of Representatives, is a social institution exclusively for Republicans. One evening in October, Representative Mike Garcia was eating there alone when Representative Mike Johnson stopped to chat. Garcia is a first-generation immigrant and a retired Navy pilot from a

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The Capitol Hill Club, in a white brick town house a few blocks from the House of Representatives, is a social institution exclusively for Republicans. One evening in October, Representative Mike Garcia was eating there alone when Representative Mike Johnson stopped to chat. Garcia is a first-generation immigrant and a retired Navy pilot from a Democratic-leaning district in Southern California. His predecessor, a Democrat, resigned after a scandal four years ago, and Garcia highlighted disagreements with his party to win reëlection in 2src22. He was also a loyalist to former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a fellow-Californian who had just been ousted by a small band of hard-line conservative rebels annoyed at his willingness to compromise on budget disputes. Garcia had formally nominated McCarthy as Speaker at the beginning of 2src23, and his removal deprived Garcia of a patron.

Johnson was personally and ideologically close to the rebels. His district, in northwest Louisiana, votes lopsidedly Republican, and his voting record was as far to the right as that of anyone in the G.O.P. Where Garcia talked about his immigrant story and combat experience, Johnson was a conservative Christian litigator who sometimes warned that hordes of “military-age” migrants were “coming to a neighborhood near you.” Yet, unlike other Republican hard-liners, he cultivated a mild and bookish persona. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, called himself “a nerd constitutional-law guy,” and garlanded his speeches with quotes from Chesterton and Tocqueville. Johnson had only a small national profile, but inside the Republican conference he was a comer. In 2src18, after his first term in Congress, he had been elected chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus that includes about three-quarters of the House G.O.P. and often launches lawmakers toward Party leadership.

At the Capitol Hill Club, though, Johnson stressed to Garcia that he had fully supported McCarthy. The two lawmakers bonded over their dismay at the frantic spectacle now unfolding, as about a dozen other ambitious Republicans competed to replace McCarthy, further dividing the Party. Garcia, who told me that he and Johnson “just commiserated about all the drama,” remembered Johnson saying, “You know, either one of us could do this job!”

That was flatly disingenuous. An idiosyncratic backbencher like Garcia could hardly hope to lead the House Republicans, especially given the rightward tilt of the Party, and the role of Speaker—keeping the fractious G.O.P. conference in line while constantly haggling with both the Senate and the White House—was too difficult for someone so new to Washington. But the suggestion flattered Garcia, who also appreciated Johnson’s tone of humility. “One of my litmus tests was, if you want this job, I am kind of dubious of you,” Garcia told me. “And it was clear that Johnson didn’t want it.”

Yet Johnson was already talking, quietly, to confidants about making his own bid for Speaker. Representative Jodey Arrington, of Texas, who is a close friend of Johnson’s, told me that “Mike called me at the very beginning,” as soon as it was clear that McCarthy “was not going to make it.” Arrington, the chairman of the powerful Budget Committee and a former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, is a charismatic figure whose name had surfaced on lists of potential Speakers. Johnson started out the phone call by politely inquiring if Arrington himself wanted the job. Arrington, who has three young children, said that he worried about the time commitment. He returned the question to Johnson, who replied that, in fact, he “really felt a sense of calling” to be Speaker—“to move forward the vision” he had for the G.O.P. conference, which included decentralizing power by sharing it with committee chairs.

Arrington and Johnson then prayed over the phone. “Go with your conviction,” Arrington said. “You know you’ll have my support.”

After three weeks of chaos, as rival contenders rose and fell, Johnson seemingly emerged from nowhere to become the House’s fifty-sixth Speaker. Only one predecessor had ascended as quickly: John G. Carlisle, in 1883. The Times’ Carl Hulse, the dean of congressional correspondents, wrote that it was “doubtful that Johnson could have imagined this moment just a day or so ago.” Republican senators had to Google Johnson’s name.

Johnson pulled off this upset with the same paradoxical style he’d displayed in those furtive early discussions. Outwardly deferential but privately ambitious, he is a professed Trump true believer whose courteous, churchy persona is virtually the opposite of the insult-spewing, porn-star-paying former President’s. While Johnson was quietly lining up backers like Arrington and Garcia, he publicly supported two more senior mentors, Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise—each competing against the other, and each predictably unable to overcome pockets of enmity within the conference. By waiting to reveal his own bid, Johnson retained the support of both mentors until he was ready to advance himself. Years of obliging service to Trump at his weakest moments—voicing steadfast support for him during his two impeachments, offering legal arguments that bolstered his stubborn denial of his 2src2src defeat—also paid off for Johnson. On October 24th, after he first added his name to the Republican secret ballot for Speaker nominee, he came in second out of nine, behind Tom Emmer, of Minnesota, the Republican Whip. Emmer had voted to certify Trump’s 2src2src electoral loss. Trump savaged him on social media as a “globalist” whose selection would be “a tragic mistake.” Emmer withdrew within hours, and the next day Trump came out, in capital letters, for Johnson. “My strong SUGGESTION is to go with the leading candidate, Mike Johnson, & GET IT DONE, FAST!,” Trump posted, wrapping up the race.

In January, Johnson, seated on a couch in the Speaker’s office—his back to his new private balcony, which overlooks the Washington Monument—told me he never doubted that he could win the job if he wanted it. “I always knew in the back of my mind I could do it,” he said. Concealing any ambition for the Speakership until the final hour may have served him well, he acknowledged. But, he insisted, this delay had been motivated by loyalty to the other aspirants, not by tactical cunning. Indeed, Johnson told me, he’d won “because my colleagues trust me—and that is a rare commodity in Washington.”

Most observers in D.C. have dismissed Johnson as an accidental Speaker. After journalists excavated some of his signature cases as a conservative Christian lawyer—suing a Baton Rouge abortion clinic, defending Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage, advocating for the teaching of creationism—Democrats labelled him a religious zealot whose rise underscored how extreme the Republican Party had become. (Much was made of the fact that Johnson and his wife have a “covenant marriage”—a voluntary arrangement that makes it more difficult to divorce.) The image of a hidebound fundamentalist then gave way to a consensus that Johnson lacked the backbone to lead effectively. He was too inexperienced for the job, too subservient to the most disruptive factions of House Republicans, too frightened of Trump.

Johnson hosts a meeting with fellow-conservatives at the U.S. Capitol. His willingness to compromise with Democrats has angered some hard-liners. Representative Max Miller, of Ohio, a former Trump campaign operative, has called Johnson “a joke.”

Instead of acting like a coach calling plays, Johnson often behaved like a referee mediating among rival wings of the Republican conference. In a meeting with a dozen ultraconservatives in January, for example, he displayed so much empathy for their views that some emerged announcing that he had agreed to renege on a top-line budget deal with the Democrats—forcing Johnson to clarify that he had “made no commitments” in what were only “thoughtful conversations.” Democrats have delighted at his struggles. He and other House Republicans have repeatedly accused Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, of “intentionally” allowing hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants to cross the southern border; on February 6th, Johnson called a vote to impeach him. Yet even some Republicans publicly complained that the impeachment set a dangerous precedent for criminalizing a policy disagreement, and their dissent helped Democrats outplay him. At the last minute, Representative Al Green, a Texas Democrat who had been hospitalized for intestinal surgery, unexpectedly rolled onto the floor in a wheelchair and hospital scrubs, defeating the measure by a single vote. Johnson had to wait for the return of Scalise, the Majority Leader—who had been recuperating from his own medical treatment, for blood cancer—to impeach Mayorkas the next week. (The Democrat-controlled Senate will quickly dismiss the case.)

Worse, Johnson’s critics said, he sometimes appeared simply to follow Trump’s lead, even at the price of sacrificing Republican policy goals. In February, the White House capitulated to several House Republican demands for a crackdown on illegal immigration. President Joe Biden, under pressure from Democratic governors and mayors, backed a Senate compromise that would tighten border security and asylum procedures. Republican senators admitted that the Democrats were making concessions they’d never make with a Republican President in power. Yet Trump opposed the deal, for transparently political reasons: he wanted to keep up his “Build the wall” attacks against Biden. Johnson, in lockstep, called the concessions insufficient and the bill “dead on arrival” if it reached the House.

Now Johnson appears to be holding military aid to Ukraine hostage, even as that country suffers its most significant losses since the Russian invasion. A broad bipartisan majority of the House is eager to approve a Senate-passed bill providing more than sixty billion dollars in assistance. But Trump and some of his congressional allies have denounced the funding as an affront to their “America First” credo—and Johnson has refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Democrats are raising alarms that Vladimir Putin could advance on Kyiv while Congress dithers. Dan Balz, the chief correspondent for the Washington Post, asked of Johnson, “Does he have any major priority other than survival?”

Johnson, in a series of conversations this year, told me that such critics misjudged him, and failed to appreciate the difficulty of his job. His majority is so slim that he can lose only one or two votes. He can accomplish almost nothing partisan without the buy-in of nearly every Republican, from the hardest of the right to the squishiest of the middle. Moreover, his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, in a bargain to secure the Speakership, agreed to revise House rules in a way that has made Johnson’s position exceptionally precarious. Under the new procedures, any member can force a vote to “vacate the chair”; in the narrowly divided House, Johnson would require virtually unanimous Republican support again in order to keep his job. He also lacks any of the leverage that his predecessors used to keep their cohort in line. Because he became Speaker in the middle of a congressional term, he can’t bestow or withhold committee placements or chairmanships until after the next election—if he is still in power. Nor has he raised the vast sums of campaign money that Party leaders typically dole out to buy loyalty (although, as Speaker, he did raise more than $1src.6 million in the final quarter of 2src23). Rank-and-file members are so unintimidated by him that they brazenly leak to the press anything he tells them—or take to social media.

“You understand what I’m managing here, right?” Johnson told me, in exasperation. He wasn’t afraid to lead—he just needed patience and stealth to do it. “If they say I’m holding the cards close to my chest, I have to do that, because everything I say gets sent straight to Chuck Schumer!”

The issue of Trump posed an even trickier question. He is at once the dominant figure in the Republican Party and its greatest liability. Nobody else so commands the conservative base—and nobody else so effectively turns out Democrats, as Republicans have learned in election after election since 2src16. Yet, because of expected Republican losses from redistricting in several states, riding Trump’s coattails may be Johnson’s only hope of retaining the majority this fall.

Johnson told me that he considered himself the first genuinely “pro-Trump” Republican leader in Congress. Mitch McConnell, in the Senate, and the former Speakers Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan were all holdovers from previous incarnations of the G.O.P. But Johnson first won election to Congress on a Trump-led ticket. He has been echoing Trump’s call for a border wall ever since, albeit in Christian terms: “We build walls because we love the people on the inside.” Johnson is all for steep tariffs on China and restricting Muslim immigration. Yet he hastened to add that he supported Trump not out of fear but “because of the policies.” He continued, “What we accomplished in those first two years of his Presidency is amazing!” During that period, he claimed, America had “the greatest economy in the history of the world.” Saying that you admire Trump for his policies, though, recalls the way men used to say that they read Playboy for the articles. Trump sells a persona, not a platform. After I pressed Johnson to expand on their unlikely bond—Johnson has met with him in the White House and at Mar-a-Lago, flown with him several times on Air Force One, attended Louisiana State University football games with him, and speaks regularly with him—the Speaker’s aides told me that he had no more time for interviews. The risk, I surmised, was too great. Johnson could anger Trump by distancing himself too much, or hand ammunition to the Democrats by distancing himself too little.

“Let me know if you see any corner pieces or ways out of this marriage?”

Cartoon by E. S. Glenn and Colin Nissan

Some people who know Johnson best, however, told me that his deference to Trump is not what should most scare liberals. Rather, it’s Johnson’s slickness—the way he doggedly masks his hard-right agenda behind his soft exterior, whether to manage the mercurial former President or the conflicting constituencies within his conference. Some on Capitol Hill call him Magic Mike, for his uncanny ability to parlay his humble “nerd constitutional-law guy” demeanor into political influence. On a podcast, David Barton, a conservative Christian activist from Texas who has known Johnson for decades, invoked an old cowboy axiom to describe the new Speaker: “He’ll make you smile before he hits you in the mouth, so that you won’t bloody your lips when he breaks your teeth.”

I first met Johnson two years ago, in a small office in the Cannon House Office Building, to ask him about Trump’s claims that enormous fraud had robbed him of victory in 2src2src. “He believes that to his core today, you know,” Johnson told me then. He sounded sympathetic. But Johnson was also discreetly clarifying that he himself had never fallen for Trump’s outlandish claims.

Johnson tells friends a Trump story that does a similar double duty. Not long after Trump’s Inauguration, Johnson joined a conference call with him about plans to terminate Obamacare, and at the end of the call Johnson promised to pray for the new President. As Johnson tells it, Trump tacitly acknowledged that his own relationship with the Almighty was relatively remote: “Tell God I said hi.” He and the former President are friendly enough to joke, Johnson’s anecdote implies, but starkly different.

Some tall politicians use their height to intimidate, as Lyndon Johnson famously did. Mike Johnson, who’s about five feet eight, derives a disarming effect from his shorter stature. With dimples, rosy cheeks, and eyeglasses, he gives the impression of a Boy Scout in a business suit. Gray streaks have appeared in his hair since I first met him, but it remains as thick as a teen-ager’s, and he wears it fixed like a wave about to break over his forehead.

In an era of insults and vitriol, Johnson is a throwback to the glad-handing operators of earlier generations—a class-president type eager to connect with anyone he meets. At a retreat for incoming freshmen after his first election to Congress, he stayed up one night to draft a bipartisan “civility pledge” for his fellow-lawmakers; he then co-founded a bipartisan “honor and civility” caucus. (Its Democratic members drifted away after Johnson defended Trump’s role in the riot of January 6, 2src21.) Although many Republicans today refuse to appear on mainstream news outlets that they perceive to have a liberal bias, such as NPR and CNN, Johnson relishes the chance. He has a born politician’s talent for repeating canned lines as though they’d just occurred to him, such as his feigned astonishment that a recent Senate foreign-aid bill included “not one word” about the U.S.’s southern border. Sometimes he interjects an unusual disclaimer—“This is not a Republican talking point!”—immediately before repeating a Republican talking point. (The migrant crisis is an “open fire hydrant!”)

Johnson seldom wastes an opportunity to flatter a Republican colleague. He told me that Tom McClintock, of California, a relatively little-known congressman whom Johnson trounced in the race to lead the Republican Study Committee, was a personal “hero.” While speaking with Representative Jim Jordan, of Ohio, on a podcast, Johnson compared their relationship to Batman and Robin, casting himself in the role of the Boy Wonder. He used the term “brother” to describe Jordan, Scalise, and several other House Republicans; former Representative Liz Cheney, now Johnson’s fiercest critic, had been “a sister.” Whenever he’s asked in interviews about Republican critics, Johnson invariably refers to each one as “a dear colleague” and “one of my closest friends.”

If this sounds performative, Johnson, as a high-school student in Shreveport, was almost as enthusiastic about theatre as he was about politics. One former classmate, Stacey Hargon, told me that Johnson’s mother didn’t believe it when he won the Speakership. She told Hargon, “I felt like I was going to wake up and find out it was just another play that Mike was in.” In Johnson’s senior year, in 199src, as the comic master of ceremonies at a school talent show, he put on a captain’s hat and pretended to paddle a boat across a stage as loudspeakers played Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” (“Sail away, sail away, sail away!”). He now often exercises his thespian talents with uncanny imitations of Biden, Trump, and others. He once impersonated the former President on a phone call, convincing his daughter and her friends that Trump was wishing her a happy birthday. After Johnson became Speaker, he amused a visiting friend from Louisiana by imitating McConnell, who’d marvelled at Johnson’s swift ascent. “It took me twenty-two years,” he croaked, as McConnell. (Sitting behind Biden during the State of the Union address this month, Johnson responded in impatient pantomime, stealing attention from the President and reinforcing his bona fides on the right. The conservative Times columnist Bret Stephens compared the reactions on Johnson’s face to “the expressions of a constipated turtle.”)

Although Johnson has branded himself a hard-liner, he has allowed some ambiguity about precisely where he stands. After less than two years in the Louisiana House, he was tapped to run for Congress by Representative John Fleming, who was stepping down to run for Senate in 2src16 and wanted a like-minded successor. Fleming never formally endorsed any candidate, but Johnson freely shared with district residents that he’d reluctantly entered the race at the request of their congressman. Fleming told me, “He sort of established that I had endorsed him without me having to endorse him, which I thought was smart.”

Fleming had recently co-founded the House Freedom Caucus, which saw itself as a fiercely conservative counterweight to pragmatists in the Party. Convinced that moderate G.O.P. leaders had packed the Republican Study Committee with loyalists to soften its right-wing bent, the Freedom Caucus’s founders made it invitation-only, to hold the line against compromise. (Former Speaker John Boehner called the group’s members “legislative terrorists” for blocking routine procedural measures in order to extort demands from the Party’s leaders.) A political action committee linked to the Freedom Caucus was one of the top donors to Johnson’s first campaign, and he attended almost all of the group’s meetings during his first few terms in Congress.

Yet Fleming told me that he wasn’t sure if Johnson had formally joined. “He left it pretty vague,” Fleming said. “Only he could tell you.” Johnson, in fact, never became a member, focussing his energies on the more mainstream Republican Study Committee. Now Johnson, as Speaker, has sometimes found his own efforts stymied by the obstinacy of his Freedom Caucus friends, and he told me that privately he had always disagreed with their obstructionist tactics. “I don’t think it is a great idea to go to the floor and burn down all your colleagues and say they haven’t accomplished anything,” he said. Invoking his legal expertise, he argued that the Freedom Caucus’s trademark refusal to compromise undermined the constitutional purpose of Congress. “I have an intimate knowledge of what the Framers intended,” Johnson said. “And the point of this exercise is that you sit around a table and arm-wrestle to figure it out—to find consensus.”

Remarkably, although several Freedom Caucus members told me that they still consider Johnson an ideological ally, several leaders of the conference’s moderate bloc, the Main Street Caucus, said they felt that he was on their side. Representative Dusty Johnson, of South Dakota, the Caucus’s chairman, described the Speaker to me as “strategic, pragmatic, and practical.”

Johnson is even chummy with some liberals. Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, told me that he considered Johnson “the most extreme theocrat we have in the House of Representatives.” But Raskin also noted that Johnson “has absolutely the best manners of anybody in the Freedom Caucus—there is a real niceness, a sweetness about the guy.” (Representative Pramila Jayapal, of Washington, the chair of the Progressive Caucus, similarly told me that she and Johnson have “a good, friendly relationship, just on a personal level.”)

Liberals like Raskin call Johnson a theocrat in part because he frequently toggles between talking about God and talking about lawmaking in the same conversation. In an October interview with the Fox News host Sean Hannity, Johnson said that the Bible dictated his policy positions on “any issue under the sun.” He went on, “Pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it—that is my world view.” He frequently emphasizes the “endowed by their Creator” line of the Declaration of Independence. And in talks to church groups Johnson has lamented that America, founded as a Christian nation, has become “post-Christian.” Conservative Christians are thrilled with him. They haven’t heard so much God talk from a prominent politician in decades.

But, if Johnson’s tone is preacherly, he is quick to insist that he means only to encourage Christians to let their faith guide their politics, not to force it on others. “I’m not trying to establish Christianity as the national religion or something,” he said in another Fox News interview. Then he repeated that “our Judeo-Christian heritage is the foundation of our country.”

Johnson, who was born in 1972, a year before the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, has often said that his passionate opposition to abortion grew out of his experience as the unplanned child of two teen-agers. Friends tried to persuade his seventeen-year-old mother to “take care of the problem,” Johnson said, on a podcast. “So this is real—it’s personal to me.”

So is politics. I first met Johnson shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, and I asked him what the next steps were for the “pro-life” movement. Johnson told me that the Court’s decision was “a good one” but, to my surprise, immediately changed the subject, to discuss his work coördinating political “messaging” for the G.O.P. conference. He had evidently seen polls showing that talking about abortion restrictions had become a political liability. As Speaker, he has fallen back on the time-tested formulation that “cultural consensus” on abortion must come before federal legislation. “We are a long way from that,” he told me recently. “So it is not on the agenda.”

His views on sexuality hew closely to the teachings of the Southern Baptist Convention, where he served for eight years as a trustee of the denomination’s public-policy arm. He maintains that homosexuality is a disordered behavior, not an identity. In 2srcsrc3, as an attorney for what is now called the Alliance Defending Freedom—the evangelical equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union—Johnson worked on an amicus brief to the Supreme Court defending the criminalization of gay sex. He later represented Louisiana in legal battles to uphold its ban on same-sex marriage, and declared that allowing gay unions was “the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.” During his time as a Louisiana state lawmaker, from 2src15 to 2src17, he was best known for introducing a bill to prohibit penalizing religious people for holding the view that marriage should be only between a man and a woman—a measure that critics said would establish a right to discriminate against gay couples. He once unsuccessfully sued the city of New Orleans to try to stop the provision of health benefits to same-sex partners of municipal employees.

But his relationship with L.G.B.T. advocates in his district, around Shreveport, reveals the complicated layers of his character. Whereas some Louisiana Republicans refused to meet such advocates, Johnson welcomed them in. Adrienne Critcher, an activist whose son is gay, told me that Johnson tried to bond with her over his own experiences with bullying in middle school, then e-mailed to thank her for their conversation. “I admire your sincere conviction,” he wrote. “The story about your son being bullied in jr high was heartbreaking and, as I mentioned, something I myself could relate to. No one should have to endure that kind of treatment, and it is a shame that people can be so mean.” They could both agree, he continued, “that we need better understanding and compassion across the board. The only way I know how to accomplish that is through respectful dialogue. I hope we can continue ours in the days ahead. In the meantime, I do not regard you as an opponent, but rather as a fellow leader who is doing what she earnestly believes to be the right and noble thing. I would like to regard you as a friend as well, but I understand that may be pushing my luck.” He added a smiley-face emoticon.

Cartoon by Will McPhail

But in the 2src16 primary for his congressional district—the only competitive race Johnson has faced—he leaned heavily on his record of opposition to L.G.B.T. rights. The early favorite was Oliver Jenkins, a Shreveport city-council member who’d been a Marine fighter pilot in Iraq. Alan Seabaugh, a Louisiana state senator who is Johnson’s former law partner and managed a pac supporting his campaign, told me that Johnson “had a huge faith network” on his side. “A lot of that was under the radar.” Jenkins, encouraged by the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, had introduced a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the Johnson campaign raised alarms that it could punish conservative Christians for their beliefs.

The Jenkins campaign suspected Johnson of resorting to more underhanded tactics: spreading false rumors that Jenkins was gay. Days before Jenkins lost to Johnson, his campaign posted a plaintive online video of his mother-in-law, Mary Anne Selber, attesting that “Oliver lives out a traditional marriage every day.” She continued, “After all, he has been married to my daughter for eighteen years, and they have blessed us with two beautiful grandchildren. If you are going to attack a Marine, a good husband, a good father, and a good Christian to win a political race, then shame on you. You, your lies, and the machine behind you are why good men won’t run for political office. North Louisiana, we are better than Mike Johnson.”

In a statement, a spokesman for Johnson called the allegation of a smear campaign “categorically false,” adding that the Speaker would never condone such actions.

Johnson grew up as the oldest of four children southwest of Shreveport, on a small farm with “hogs and a few acres,” he told me. His father, Patrick, was an assistant chief of the Shreveport Fire Department. On September 17, 1984, Mike, then twelve, had the TV on while his mother, Jeanne, tended a pot on the stove. A news bulletin came on: there had been a five-alarm fire at the Dixie Cold Storage plant. Moments later, his mother was rushing out the door, sobbing. “The last thing I heard my mom saying was, ‘Call your grandmother, I’m going to leave,’ ” he said. “And I remember just standing there, watching the water boil over.”

Patrick Johnson and his partner had been at the plant, each wearing a rubber hazmat suit. An explosion engulfed them in flames. His partner died, and Patrick’s suit melted onto his body, severely burning him. He escaped the plant by squeezing through a hole in a wall. The hole’s diameter was reportedly eleven inches.

Seemingly everyone in Shreveport knows the story, and believes that only supernatural intervention enabled Patrick Johnson to survive. “It was a miraculous event,” Mike Johnson told me. He has spoken of his own life in providential terms. Johnson said in his acceptance speech as Speaker that he believed “God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here,” and he has sometimes compared the challenges facing Congress to “a Red Sea moment.” (Liz Cheney recently quipped in a television interview that Johnson “believes that God has told him that he’s called to be Moses.”)

Johnson told me that the trauma of his father’s accident had contributed to his political skills. Jeanne spent long stretches of time away to care for Patrick, who underwent more than forty surgeries, and she gave Mike a “quasi-parental role,” having him supervise his siblings and take over chores like the laundry. “I kind of lost my childhood, in a way,” Johnson told me. Then, on the advice of doctors, Patrick set out to find a drier climate where he could breathe more easily, and this turned into a quest “to find himself,” Johnson said. Patrick left the family, then remarried and divorced again multiple times. He plunged into New Age spirituality—his last wife was a Taoist abbess—and composed folk songs to warn other firefighters about the perils of hazardous chemicals. As Patrick embraced hippiedom, Jeanne and the children relied increasingly on their rural evangelical church, where Mike had been baptized at the age of seven in a horse trough out back.

Teachers noticed that Johnson was unusually responsible. When they had to leave their classrooms, they put him in charge. He began adopting a paternal tone toward his peers, too. A classmate, K. C. Kilpatrick Baird, recalled, “He would call you to be your better self, which was annoying at times, if you did not want to be your better self, as a carefree teen.”

Johnson said that managing his pain over his father’s abandonment taught him how to project equanimity. “The Scripture says, ‘Honor your father and mother’—there is no qualifier,” Johnson told me. Even as his dad moved from city to city, Mike visited him often. In 2src16, Patrick fell ill with cancer, and Mike welcomed him home to Shreveport. The night Johnson was elected to Congress, Patrick was photographed in a crowd behind his son. He died three days later. “I have a remarkable ability to forgive people, even when they’re trying to persecute me,” Mike Johnson told me. “That’s really important to a job in politics.”

While recounting his upbringing, Johnson choked up twice. Two aides sitting in on our conversation fidgeted anxiously. When one extended a box of tissues, Johnson called the aides “sissies” and vowed to pull himself together. He told me that his wife, Kelly, a fellow native Louisianan who is licensed as a Christian counsellor, had helped him “deal with the childhood trauma.” But, he said, “it’s still raw—that’s why I’ve got it sort of tucked away.”

Johnson himself first became a father of sorts around the time he graduated from law school at Louisiana State University, in Baton Rouge, in 1998. While volunteering for the evangelical organization Young Life, he got to know a fourteen-year-old named Michael James. Johnson recalled, “We hit it off, and he became my little buddy.” He took James, who is Black, to the all-white church he attended, and they’d “go to events and stuff.”

James lived in a trailer with his mother and four siblings, in a situation that could be described as chaotic. One rainy January evening, Johnson heard that James had moved out; he found him in a cardboard refrigerator box behind a Walmart. “He was in a terrible situation and he couldn’t go back,” Johnson told me, and the social-service system in Louisiana at that time would have put him “on the road to drugs and crime.” Johnson and Kelly had recently married, a year after meeting at a wedding in Baton Rouge. They brought him to their house and eventually became his legal guardians. James lived with the Johnsons—interrupted by unsuccessful attempts to reunite with his mother—for about three years, until he turned eighteen.

Mike and Kelly Johnson have since had four children, and he has generally tried to protect Michael James’s privacy. But alluding to the story is hard for a politician like him to resist. In 2src19, at a Democrat-led House committee hearing on reparations for slavery, Johnson brought up his relationship with James to show a personal connection to the experience of racial bias. “I have walked with him through discrimination he’s had to endure,” Johnson said. He also declared that James opposed reparations. (James did not respond to my request for an interview.) Johnson argued that the proposal would be unconstitutional and would unfairly burden taxpayers “for the sins of a small subset of Americans many generations ago”—an assertion that drew boos from the crowd.

Later, when Johnson addressed an audience of conservative Christian donors at the Council for National Policy, he told the story of James and the hearing rather differently. He compared his relationship with his Black son to the 2srcsrc9 movie “The Blind Side”—“except my kid was not an N.F.L. prospect.” And he claimed that those in the hearing room had booed at him merely for talking about his relationship with James. The committee room had been full of Black Panthers, Johnson said, and “Black Panthers don’t want any intermingling between the races.” The Black Panthers disappeared as a movement decades ago, but the conservative audience gasped in sympathy.

Soon after Johnson became Speaker, the comedian Devon Walker played James on “Saturday Night Live.” “Hey, guys, I am his adult Black son,” Walker announced. “I am only eleven years younger than him, and I am kind of a secret. It’s normal—don’t look into that at all!” The Daily Mail tracked down James, who lives outside Los Angeles, and reported that he had a “rap sheet” of petty crimes.

But James, who is now forty years old and married, with four children of his own, told the tabloid that he was grateful. If not for the Johnsons, he said, “I would probably be in prison or I might not have made it at all.” James calls the Johnsons “Mom and Dad,” and during one interview Johnson told me that he’d been laughing with James on the phone the previous night: “James said, ‘My friends are, like, You’re famous! You are the only person I know with an “S.N.L.” skit!’ ”

In 2src15, Johnson wrote on Facebook that Trump “lacks the character and the moral center we desperately need” and would be “dangerous” in the Oval Office. But by the time Johnson entered the congressional primary, in early 2src16, Trump was soaring in popularity among Republicans, and Johnson became a full-throated supporter. “President Trump quickly won me and millions of my fellow Republicans over,” Johnson recently told the Times, after reporters unearthed his critical post.

His direct cultivation of Trump began during a visit to the White House on behalf of the Republican Study Committee, in March, 2src19. As Johnson recounted to the Louisiana political reporter Greg Hilburn, he and Trump talked “at length” about the House Democrats’ investigations of the President. Johnson called the inquiries a “vendetta,” and he later joined a so-called impeachment “defense team”—in reality, a list of congressional surrogates deputized to handle public relations for the President.

Johnson’s description of himself as a “constitutional lawyer” rings oddly to other attorneys. Lawyers who argue in court about the Constitution typically refer to themselves less grandly. They call themselves appellate lawyers, or specialists in a field of expertise like voting rights, the First Amendment, or administrative law. Yet Representative Raskin, a former law professor, told me that he considered Johnson “by far the most constitutionally informed member of the Republican conference.” Kimberly Wehle, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a legal-affairs journalist, was commissioned by Politico Magazine to assess legal briefs that Johnson had filed as a litigator. She faulted him for favoring the religious freedom of evangelicals over the rights of Americans who don’t want their tax dollars to support Christianity. She called his philosophy “the First Amendment for me but not for thee.” But Wehle told me she was surprised to find that many of his legal briefs were of “high quality—reasoned and measured.”

The identities of Johnson’s former clients have dominated recent headlines: an evangelical student who disparaged homosexuality, a county board opening its sessions with prayer, a creationist theme park seeking a state tax subsidy. But, like most legal work, his cases typically turned not on disquisitions about the vision of the Founders but on narrow, technical details. His defense of the county board centered on the fact that it had invited opening prayers from the clergy of every house of worship in the local phone book (even if in practice the invocation usually mentioned Jesus). When Johnson argued that Kentucky officials had improperly withdrawn a previously promised tax rebate from an evangelical group’s Noah’s Ark amusement park, he focussed on the timing and the context. In oral arguments, Johnson said that the officials had set themselves up as “ecclesiastical arbiters” by objecting that the park was “too evangelical” only after they learned that it would promote not just the Old Testament but also the Gospel.

Johnson’s verbal dexterity made him a valuable ally for a President beset by criminal allegations. During Trump’s first impeachment, Johnson gave about fifty television interviews on the President’s behalf. Johnson told Hilburn that Trump frequently offered him feedback after TV appearances, and returned Johnson’s calls “within a couple of hours.” The elevated access, Johnson argued, benefitted his constituents. By the end of Trump’s second impeachment, Johnson told me, he’d been forced to develop a “subspeciality” in such proceedings as part of his expertise in constitutional law.

A video feed of the House floor, where Johnson presided over a narrow vote to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security.

On the Sunday after Biden’s 2src2src victory, Johnson was onstage at a church in his district, giving a talk about Christianity’s place in American history, when Trump called. Johnson was about to turn on his phone’s speaker for the crowd—“because what a delight that would be!”—but Trump was “not in the best of moods,” Johnson told me. He was calling “to vent about ‘We’ve been cheated’ and all of that.”

Trump demanded that Johnson and other House Republicans back his “Stop the steal” theories about widespread fraud and rigged voting machines. But Johnson quickly concluded that the claims were impossible to prove, if not demonstrably bogus. “I never egged on any of that,” he stressed to me in 2src22.

Seabaugh, Johnson’s old friend and former law partner, told me that they consulted extensively after the election, and identified a potential constitutional argument that would sidestep the lack of evidence for Trump’s allegations. Article I of the Constitution says that “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors.” But, during the pandemic, courts or other officials had sometimes changed voting procedures to allow more absentee ballots or to enable social distancing. A lawyer representing Trump, they decided, could argue that Pennsylvania and other states Biden won had changed the rules unconstitutionally.

Seabaugh told me he and Johnson both knew that this argument would be “very difficult,” because of the troublesome question of how to correct even incontrovertible mistakes after the fact. Suppose Pennsylvania officials had improperly changed the rules. It would be unprecedented to set aside the ballots of millions of Pennsylvanians. For the same reason, courts do not annul elections later deemed to have taken place under racially discriminatory gerrymandering schemes. “The question of a remedy is the problem,” Seabaugh told me, and Johnson was “smart enough to see the problem.”

Johnson ignored it. These states “violated the plain language of the Constitution,” he told me two years ago. The electors chosen by those states were “the fruit of the poisonous tree.”

The Republican attorney general of Texas made a similar argument to the Supreme Court, along with a grab bag of other assertions, and asked the Justices to let the legislatures in certain states pick their own electors. Perhaps not coincidentally, these legislatures were all controlled by Republicans. Johnson told me that the Texas brief was “not a great case, to put it charitably,” in part because Texas lacked standing to argue about the procedures of other states. (Indeed, the Court rejected the suit for that reason.) But Johnson said that he wanted “to get my one drumbeat question in front of the Justices,” so he retained lawyers to write an amicus brief in support of the Texas appeal. If Johnson was focussed only on the narrow constitutional issue, though, his lawyers had much broader ambitions. The first name listed on the amicus brief was William J. Olson, a far-right gadfly who the Times later reported was soon speaking directly with Trump and recommending that he use his executive power to overturn the election—even if that required firing his Attorney General and vetting state voter rolls.

Johnson’s argument, however legally tenuous, had at least avoided all the nonsense about Dominion voting machines and mysterious bags of Atlanta ballots. In 2src22, he thanked me for appreciating the distinction between his claims and Trump’s. “It has been a source of great frustration that we are sort of lumped in together with people who wanted to overthrow an election and, you know, to tear down the Capitol,” he said.

Such distinctions, however, did not deter Johnson from seizing more chances to endear himself to Trump. On December 9, 2src2src, Johnson e-mailed every Republican in Congress, saying, in underlined red text, that Trump had “specifically asked me” to “request that all join on to our brief.” He noted that Trump himself “will be anxiously awaiting the final list to review.”

In retrospect, Johnson’s amicus brief may be the moment he first upstaged McCarthy as the Republicans’ leader. McCarthy had told other G.O.P. leaders that he’d refused to sign Johnson’s brief. But after a hundred and five House Republicans signed on to the initial filing of the brief—half the conference—Johnson refiled it the next day with twenty more names, including McCarthy’s. Johnson graciously described the omission of McCarthy’s name as a clerical error.

On January 5, 2src21, the day before the House was to certify the Electoral College results, Cheney arranged for Representative Chip Roy to address a closed-door meeting of the Republican conference. Roy, a staunch conservative and a former assistant attorney general of Texas, argued that the House certification must remain pro forma. For Congress to question the legitimacy of state election rules would violate conservative principles of federalism, and votes to reject Trump’s defeat would invite Democrats to try to block Republicans from the White House in future elections. “I am going to get roasted by my base,” Roy told his colleagues, but “this is a defense of the United States Constitution.” (The journalists Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns obtained a recording of the conference meeting.)

Johnson, ever courteous, approached Cheney before the meeting. He recalled saying, “Liz, you have to at least let me present. I am not going to try to convince anybody, but there are eighty or ninety people out there who have asked me for my views, and we are doing a disservice to the conference if you don’t let me at least address this. Give me five minutes.” She agreed, planning to let Roy have the last word.

“Tyler makes a good point. Do we have any pillaging and plundering songs that aren’t problematic?”

Cartoon by Pia Guerra and Ian Boothby

Johnson began by again reminding his colleagues of his credentials, noting that he had studied for this moment “more than when I first became a constitutional lawyer, twenty years ago.” He declared that his fellow-Republicans needed neither to endorse Trump’s unproven fraud claims nor to validate Biden’s victory. The arguments in his amicus brief—which, he noted, many had already publicly endorsed—constituted “a third option” for the lawmakers. Johnson argued that they could reject the electors from certain states solely on the basis of “constitutional infirmity” in pandemic voting procedures. In fact, Johnson argued, their oath to the Constitution required them to invalidate these electors.

Johnson’s legal conceit allowed Republicans to side with Trump without embracing his frivolous claims. Johnson acknowledged its political convenience. “But, as God is my witness, that was not my objective,” he said. “I was not trying to influence anybody.” He was just defending the Constitution.

Cheney, in a recent TV interview, called Johnson’s position “chilling.” She contended that he’d essentially put himself above the law, by claiming that, as a member of Congress, his opinion about the Constitution entitled him to “throw out the votes of millions of Americans.” She said, “That’s tyranny. It’s not the rule of law.”

McCarthy, at the January 5th meeting, ducked the question about certifying electors, merely thanking both speakers for their input. “I think we have really grown as a conference,” he declared.

Whatever Johnson had told Cheney about not trying to “convince anybody,” he helped persuade a hundred and thirty-nine House Republicans to vote to reject Trump’s defeat in at least one state. Three-quarters of those members closely echoed Johnson’s reasoning. A senior Republican staff member who was involved told me, “He put lipstick on that pig,” adding, “The vast majority of members aren’t constitutional scholars. So as soon as he has made his pitch that ‘this is what the Constitution demands,’ the vast majority of the conference thinks, This guy is smart, he loves his wife, he talks about her a lot, he went to a good school—who am I to argue with him?”

During the closed-door meeting, Representative Debbie Lesko, of Arizona, explicitly warned the conference that angry Trump supporters who were convening in Washington might turn violent toward lawmakers. Many “actually believe that we are going to overturn the election,” Lesko warned. “And when that doesn’t happen . . . they are going to go nuts.”

Though Johnson was in the room when Lesko spoke, he later insisted to me that on January 6th he hadn’t even realized that Trump was holding a rally by the White House. When Johnson heard angry voices off the floor of the House, he thought that it was “a terrorist attack,” he said, adding, “I did not know whether it was lefties or righties—that is how oblivious, how deep in the weeds, your nerd constitutional-law guy was.” He told me that he felt “heartbroken” by the assault on American democracy. (Nonetheless, Johnson has never publicly objected when Trump and his congressional allies have referred to those arrested for the attack as “hostages” or “political prisoners.”)

Two years ago, Johnson noted to me, with satisfaction, that the Supreme Court had agreed to take up a case involving his argument about the sovereignty of state legislatures over election procedures. The case, Moore v. Harper, centered on whether a North Carolina court could invalidate a redistricting map. “They are going to answer that singular question we presented to them—three years late,” Johnson told me.

Last summer, the Court ruled, 6–3, that the Constitution does not give state legislatures sole authority over election rules. When I brought this up to Johnson, he told me that the Court’s ruling did not constrain him, even now that he was a leader of the legislative branch of government. “I still contend—and no one can argue otherwise—that the plain language of the Constitution was violated,” Johnson said, adding, “The Supreme Court has been wrong a lot of times.”

States are no longer changing election procedures in response to a pandemic. But, with the same Presidential candidates headed for a rematch, it’s not hard to imagine that Trump might again dispute a defeat, or call on the Republican-controlled House to object to results. Would Johnson again urge Republicans to reject electors if he deemed a state’s voting process constitutionally defective? He said, “As the Speaker of the House, I am going to follow the law. It doesn’t matter what anybody tells me—I am going to follow the Constitution. If we are presented with a slate of electors that was selected in an unconstitutional manner, my legal analysis is going to be exactly the same.”

In 2src24, it will be even more difficult for Johnson to square his decorous Christian persona with his support for Trump. The former President has called for the “termination” of parts of the Constitution, talked about executing a general for insubordination, called opponents “vermin” and journalists “criminals”—and the list goes on. Johnson brushed it all off as “campaign rhetoric.” In a conversation in the Speaker’s office, he told me, “People in this building say crazy things every day.”

When I pressed him on the reported plans of Trump’s advisers to exert more control over federal prosecutors—whose political independence is critical to democracy—Johnson fired back that the Biden Administration had already “weaponized and politicized” the Justice Department. “Trump and I agree about that a hundred per cent,” Johnson said. Prosecutors “targeted Trump because of who he is—and they knew he was going to run again.” Johnson told me he was convinced that the special counsel Jack Smith was “not a good-faith actor” and was “out to get Trump.” He noted that other Republican lawmakers had complained that Smith had “exceeded his authority,” adding, “We are going to let all that play out.” (Trump and some conservative legal scholars have argued that Attorney General Merrick Garland had no authority to appoint a special counsel in the first place, without action by the President and the Senate, and some House Republicans have threatened to subpoena Smith or cut off his funding.) And if Trump were convicted of a felony? Johnson said, “There is no prohibition in the Constitution against someone who has a felony becoming President.”

At every turn, Johnson assured me that he would “follow the Constitution,” no matter what Trump or anyone else demanded. Yet in Johnson’s hands the Constitution’s dictates always appear to coincide with his politics. Reparations violated the Constitution. The Freedom Caucus’s obstructionism violated the intentions of the Founders. The Democrat-led impeachments of Trump were an attack on “the Constitutional order.” The Supreme Court, in Moore v. Harper, misread the Constitution. But the Republican inquiry into impeaching Biden was a solemn constitutional “duty,” as was the impeachment of Mayorkas. Johnson even invoked his authority as a constitutional expert during the competition to succeed McCarthy. Some Republicans proposed fully empowering Patrick McHenry, a popular lawmaker who, after McCarthy’s ouster, had become the interim Speaker. Such a move could have blocked Johnson’s path. Several people present at internal meetings told me that Johnson had brought up convoluted arguments about the constitutional role of the Senate president pro tempore to object—regretfully—that empowering an interim Speaker would be unconstitutional.

Johnson’s first big test as Speaker was the passage, in January, of a measure to set a figure for total government spending. Former Speaker McCarthy’s efforts to reach a compromise with the Democrats in the Senate and the White House had met with fierce opposition from Trump, who urged the House G.O.P. to stop funding the government. “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!,” Trump wrote on his social-media platform, Truth Social. “Whoever is President will be blamed.” When McCarthy nevertheless reached a deal with the Democrats, the Freedom Caucus rebels removed him. Yet the balance of political power with the Democrats didn’t change with McCarthy’s ouster, and after two months of renegotiations Johnson returned with essentially the same deal. Representative Lloyd Smucker, a Pennsylvania Republican close to Johnson, told me at the time, “It’s Groundhog Day. It’s no different.”

A few far-right lawmakers threatened to topple Johnson just like McCarthy. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Trump superfan from Georgia, said that she might file a motion to vacate the chair. Representative Max Miller, of Ohio, a former Trump campaign operative, called Johnson “a joke.” Representative Warren Davidson, also of Ohio, said that his ballot for Johnson as Speaker was “one of the worst votes I’ve ever cast.” McHenry, feigning sympathy, told me that Johnson “had a lot to learn.”

“Her final wish was to be laid upon a perfectly grilled slice of sourdough bread, drizzled with trendy olive oil, and consumed by a hot girl for a viral Instagram reel.”

Cartoon by Dabin Han

A hundred and six Republicans—almost half the conference—voted against Johnson’s deal. It passed only because of nearly unanimous support from Democrats. Trump, though, refrained from attacking Johnson as he had McCarthy, and the new Speaker survived in part by convincing the hard-right faction that deep down he was still one of them. “I am a conservative hard-liner,” he kept repeating in press conferences and interviews.

Funding for Ukraine presents another test. Before becoming Speaker, Johnson at least twice voted with other hard-liners against bills providing aid to the country. Yet cutting off funding would deliver Ukraine to Putin. Democrats are already invoking Neville Chamberlain. In a recent interview, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national-security adviser, declared that the course of the war “comes down to one person, Speaker Johnson.” Sullivan called Johnson’s choice “one of those instances where one person can bend the course of history.”

Johnson has evidently been searching for a new angle that would allow the House G.O.P. to fund the war while attacking Biden over Ukraine as loudly as Trump does. Garcia, the California Republican, told me that at a meeting last fall Party leaders had asked him to explain his vote against a three-hundred-million-dollar funding patch for Ukraine. Garcia, who worked for the defense contractor Raytheon after leaving the Navy, explained to his colleagues that he opposed the bill because he objected to the Biden Administration’s strategy. (“I’m not pro-Russia, I’m pro-winning,” he told me.) He offered to write a memorandum about an alternative approach, but did not hear any interest. Johnson, however, had attended the meeting, and a few weeks later, shortly after McCarthy’s ouster, he texted Garcia, “Hey brother, have you finished that Ukraine paper?” Garcia was impressed. “I was, like, ‘Wow, you remember that?’ ” he told me.

Garcia prepared a fourteen-page report recommending that the U.S. send specific forms of more lethal aid to the Ukrainian military. The day after Johnson became Speaker, he hand-delivered Garcia’s report to the White House. Garcia told me that Johnson had described the report as the new House Republican “hymnbook” on the war. (On November 3rd, the White House sent a fourteen-page response, which Garcia shared with me; he called it inadequate.) Johnson had “evolved,” Garcia told me, “from something like ‘Never a dollar more’ to ‘Let’s fund it at the right levels and win.’ ” But, if Garcia’s ideas are Johnson’s “hymnbook,” he has yet to sing from it in public, leaving it unclear how much he might sacrifice support for Ukraine in order to placate the America First crowd.

Johnson, in his office. He has been derided as an accidental Speaker, but he said of his rise, “I always knew in the back of my mind I could do it.”

Some people close to Johnson contend that he is the right leader for House Republicans precisely because of his knack for straddling—or, at least papering over—the intraparty battle lines of the Trump era. Accommodating the takeover by Trump and his brand of populism is the Party’s signal challenge today. And nowhere is the schism between the G.O.P.’s Trumpian present and its Reaganite past more visible than in the House, where Trump and his acolytes have persistently bedevilled conventional Republican leaders such as McCarthy and Ryan. But Johnson “speaks the dialect of traditional conservatism, and he also speaks the America First dialect,” Representative Drew Ferguson, a Georgia Republican, told me. Trump and his hard-line allies are willing to give Johnson leeway because they trust that he is ideologically one of them, Ferguson said, and “the moderates know he is politically astute enough not to make them do things that will automatically get them defeated.”

Johnson and his friends are the first to insist that beneath his civil smile beats the ruthless heart of a Freedom Caucus stalwart. Persuading far-right members of the House to keep the government open is strategic—a means to preserve Republican congressional seats and to exact future cuts. Changing the subject from abortion is the way to elect more “pro-life” lawmakers. Convincing Trump and the Freedom Caucus not to attack Johnson and other Republicans for funding the war in Ukraine would not only deter Putin; it would surely boost the G.O.P.’s chances of winning in November, thus advancing other conservative goals.

For Democrats, a smooth and soft-spoken hard-liner may be a bigger threat than a caustic screamer. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, aware that Johnson is tougher to demonize than some of his more pugnacious pals, immediately tried to brand Johnson as “Jim Jordan in a sports coat.” Democratic operatives are trying to tie all Republican lawmakers to Johnson’s far-right record: his votes for a ban on abortion and against same-sex marriage; his introduction of a “Don’t Say Gay”-style bill that would prohibit discussions of gender identity with children under ten at any school, hospital, or other institution receiving federal funding; his calls to cut social programs and remove environmental protections. Most of all, the Democrats are hammering Johnson as a cynical Trump stooge—“maga Mike”—who collaborated in the attempt to overturn an election.

If Trump reoccupies the White House and Republicans control Congress, what would be Speaker Johnson’s priorities? In our conversations, he rattled off his best-case scenario: cracking down on illegal immigration, raising tariffs on China, cutting taxes, expanding oil-and-gas drilling, dramatically rolling back all kinds of regulations. Stripping regulatory power from government agencies would be “a major theme,” he told me. Liberals might say that deregulation would give free rein to polluters, banks, and other corporate interests. Johnson told me that he’d be upholding a lofty principle: “restoring the constitutional authority of Congress as a co-equal third branch.”

“Trump learned a lot of painful lessons in his first term,” Johnson told me, including that liberal bureaucrats in government agencies “might be working against him.” A second Trump term would be like the first, but “on turbo,” Johnson promised, adding, “I think we are going to be right off to the races!” ♦

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