Scary times in America as Halloween eve marks first full week of the Mike Johnson era 

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 30, 2023
The new House Speaker represents the complete MAGAfication of the Republican Party

Until his shock election as speaker, Mike Johnson was practically unknown. Photo: US Congress

Fitting, in a way, that the eve of Halloween was the first full week of the Mike Johnson era.

The new speaker of the US House of Representatives doesn’t look particularly scary. His persona is mild-mannered. The glasses and neat wavy hair give Mr Johnson the serious air of a nerd. Or else, that of an actor playing at being a new professor, perhaps on an Ivy League campus. The  bowtie suggests an after-dinner speaker.

But what Mr Johnson represents is frightening, the complete MAGAfication of the Republican Party.

His rise from national unknown to third in line to the US presidency embodies the startling transformation of Republicans into an outfit led by and fit for MAGA true believers and no one else.

Remember that Mr Johnson, a 51-year-old Congressman from Louisiana, truly, madly, deeply believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump and played a key role in efforts to overturn the results. He is an outspoken opponent of abortion, opposes same-sex marriage, wants deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and is a young-earth creationist who denies the reality of climate change.

Unlike his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, Mr Johnson doesn’t say anything that might compromise with positions he disfavours. He isn’t prepared to follow the usual institutional procedures that might keep the US government running.

Right off the bat then, the first week of the Speaker Johnson era will see a battle with the White House on Ukraine funding. Mr Johnson wants to pass a standalone Israel aid bill, splitting the issue from the Ukraine war. On November 2, Mr Johnson’s Republicans expect to vote on the $14.5 billion measure.

As Damon Linker, a senior political science lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, recently said in Persuasion, the Republican Party’s unanimous vote for Mr Johnson as speaker wasn’t “a contest over authenticity (but) a contest over actions.” He added: “I see nothing in Johnson’s career as a lawyer or in his record since running for Congress in 2016 that suggests anything other than genuine commitment to the positions he’s taken.”

Scary stuff.