Mike Johnson Should Tell Marjorie Taylor Greene to Bring the Smoke

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

“You can either die as speaker and worry about them taking you out, or live every day as your last.”

As Speaker Mike Johnson ponders what to do this week, I hope he heeds that advice that came from Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) back in February.

In case you have missed it, the next week or so will determine whether Johnson is going to remain the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and (just as important) whether that title is even worth a warm bucket of spit in the first place.

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There are three possible outcomes for Johnson.

He could appease the bullies—the depraved Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and the reprehensible Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)—and remain the SINO (Speaker in Name Only).

Or he could stand up to them and be ousted from his position.

Johnson’s last option is his best: He could stare down those same radicals and fight for his right to lead.

The final scenario is the only way the job would be worth having. To become a real House Republican leader, Johnson has to dare these bastards to do their worst and let the chips fall where they may.

As former Speaker Kevin McCarthy advised back in March, “...the one [piece of] advice I would give to the Conference and to the Speaker is do not be fearful of a motion to vacate.” He continued: “Focus on the country, focus on the job you’re supposed to do, and actually do it fearlessly. Just move forward.”

If Johnson wins, he might actually get to do some work he can be proud of. What is more, he might gain some juice.

As Rep. McHenry—who served as McCarthy’s temporary replacement for a few weeks until Johnson was voted Speaker in October 2023—noted, “If you lead and get big things done, your reputation enhances. Your ability to get the next deal done is enhanced.”

Either way, it’s better than living with a sword of Damocles hanging over your head. “Cowards die many times before their deaths,” as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar noted.

Whatever strategy Johnson pursues, he better do it quickly. Things are coming to a head, and Johnson has a narrow window of opportunity to support America’s allies (including Ukraine, which desperately needs funding to fight back against Russian aggression) and establish himself as a bona fide leader, instead of a glorified cat herder.

Further complicating matters, Johnson’s survival might hinge on relying on Democrats to save his bacon. He should accept their help without fear of breaking some sacred taboo. At the same time, he should be wary of becoming compromised by the same people who are helping him.

This brings us to the maxim that informs my advice: In a negotiation, the person willing to walk away usually wins, and the person who can’t afford to walk away almost always loses.

If Johnson doesn’t want to take my word for it, perhaps he might follow the lead of a more notable Republican: Ronald Reagan.

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When a young Reagan visited California and took a movie screen test, he was told to stick around town until a film executive had time to review it. Instead, Reagan let it be known he was heading back home to Iowa.

“It was only on the train that suddenly the horrified feeling came over me that maybe I had blown the whole thing,” Reagan recalled in his autobiography, Where’s the Rest of Me? “Actually, through ignorance I had done the smartest thing it was possible to do. Hollywood just loves people who don’t need Hollywood.”

One could say the same thing about Washington. By refusing to dance to someone else’s tune, Reagan appeared even more desirable.

As president, Reagan played an even higher-stakes version of this game when he walked away from the negotiating table at Reykjavik after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev insisted that the United States scrap the Strategic Defense Initiative. Rather than going for the quick win, Reagan stuck to his guns. Some people believe that this move ultimately led to the end of the Soviet Union.

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“If you love something, set it free,” advises a commonly cited proverb. “If it comes back, it’s yours. If not, it was never meant to be.” To actually become the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson has to be willing to lose the speakership.

Time will tell if he has the moxie to do that. Then again, if Johnson doesn’t have the guts to confront the hostage-takers, then he doesn’t deserve to be the speaker anyway.

If he’s tough and smart, Johnson’s approach to his would-be ousters will boil down to telling them this: “Either pull the trigger or get the hell out of the way!”

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