Published October 10, 2023
The House speaker contest is shaping up to be a battle between two top Republicans: Majority Leader Steve Scalise (La.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio). So far, neither has demonstrated the essential ingredient for a successful speaker: an ability to appeal to moderates and grow the party.
The two men are light-years apart in their demeanors and talents. Scalise is a mainstream conservative who has risen through the ranks the old-fashioned way — cultivating friendships and focusing on his ability to count votes and shape legislation. He is also a strong fundraiser. If members want a conservative who values consensus over confrontation and prefers small victories over potential defeat, Scalise is the obvious choice.
Jordan, by contrast, rose to prominence as leader of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus and was one of Donald Trump’s staunchest defenders, earning him the former president’s endorsement for the speakership. Jordan has moderated his approach in recent years, showing a willingness to accommodate intraparty realities. But his main value as speaker would be his talent on television and his willingness to fight Democrats aggressively.
Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He was the Thomas W. Smith distinguished scholar in residence at Arizona State University for the winter/spring 2023 semester.
Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, studies and provides commentary on American politics. His work focuses on how America’s political order is being upended by populist challenges, from the left and the right. He also studies populism’s impact in other democracies in the developed world.