Mainstream Republicans, ‘Squishes’ No More, Dig In Against Jordan

Shortly after Representative Nick LaLota, a first-term Republican from New York, voted against Representative Jim Jordan’s bid for speaker, the threats began pouring in.

“If I see your face, I will whip all the hair out of your head you scumbag,” read one expletive-laden email.

The wife of Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska has begun sleeping with a loaded gun after receiving increasingly menacing anonymous calls and texts. Representative Drew Ferguson of Georgia on Thursday joined a growing cadre of holdouts against Mr. Jordan’s candidacy who said they had received death threats — and added that members of his family had become targets as well.

“When the pressure campaigns and attacks on fellow members ramped up, it became clear to me that the House Republican conference does not need a bully as the speaker,” Mr. Ferguson said in a statement explaining his vote. He told Republicans in a closed-door meeting on Thursday that the threats had prompted him to dispatch a sheriff to his daughter’s school.

The harrowing experiences have provided a window into just how ugly the political discourse in the United States has become, and how the hard right in particular has normalized violent threats and intimidation.

Representative Jim Jordan met with the 22 holdouts opposing his candidacy on Thursday, after deciding to plunge ahead in a third try to become speaker.Credit…Kenny Holston/The New York Times

Activists have taken a page from former President Donald J. Trump, who adores Mr. Jordan and who speaks in raw and often menacing terms about his political adversaries. But while such language is meant to intimidate, it also helps explain why the mainstream conservatives’ resistance to Mr. Jordan’s candidacy is growing.

For years, as their right-wing counterparts obstructed legislative business with ever more bare-knuckled tactics, forcing government shutdowns and risking debt defaults along the way, the more traditional conservative Republicans in the House have been the ones to acquiesce. Sometimes called “squishes” because of their penchant for compromise, they have backed down from intraparty confrontation on multiple occasions. They have bowed to the whims of their more vocal colleagues who were channeling the passions of the party’s base. That base disdains establishment Washington and the kind of deal cutting that powers a functioning government.

Knowing their history, Mr. Jordan and his allies believed they would ultimately grit their teeth, put aside their reservations about elevating him to the post second in line to the presidency and vote for him.

Not this time.

In a remarkable reversal of roles, a group of roughly 20 veteran Republicans, including institutionalists and lawmakers in politically competitive districts, are flexing their muscles against Mr. Jordan’s candidacy. Their choice to do so has prolonged an extraordinary period of paralysis in the House, which began more than two weeks ago when the hard right deposed Kevin McCarthy as speaker. It has continued as Republicans wage an extraordinary feud over who should replace him. The objective of the mainstream Republicans is not to sow chaos themselves, they argue, but to prevent more from unfolding.

“We’re going to get a speaker who represents us all and has supporters who play by the rules,” Mr. Bacon said.

Their anger has slowly percolated over the course of the past month, beginning with the ouster of Mr. McCarthy at the hands of eight far-right Republicans. It was exacerbated when Mr. Jordan offered only tepid backing for Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, after he won the party’s nomination to succeed Mr. McCarthy. Mr. Jordan’s allies refused to back Mr. Scalise, forcing him aside.

But the influx of threats and menacing calls and messages they have received appears to have singularly galvanized Mr. Jordan’s detractors, many of whom have since vowed never to support him. Now they are casting their resistance as a way of showing their party that intimidation will not work.

The lawmakers and their aides say that a majority of the messages are not coming from their constituents, but from voters across the country.

The torrent came after allies of Mr. Jordan, the ultraconservative Ohio Republican, unleashed a pressure campaign to try to make himself speaker. For days, hard-line groups have posted holdouts’ names and office phone numbers on social media to encourage voters to browbeat them into voting for Mr. Jordan.

“I don’t really take well to threats,” said Representative Carlos Gimenez of Florida. “Matter of fact, if you threaten me, I’d probably go the other way. I probably head into the wind, not away from the wind.”

Representative Steve Womack of Arkansas, another of the holdouts, said the opposition had only “hardened the positions of a number of members.”

Representative Don Bacon’s wife has begun sleeping with a loaded gun after receiving increasingly menacing anonymous messages.Credit…Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

“I talk with them every day,” Mr. Womack said of the holdouts. “They are as solid on their positions today as they’ve ever been. It’s almost like watching concrete set up.”

Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa said she had received “credible death threats and a barrage of threatening calls” that law enforcement officials were investigating.

“One thing I cannot stomach, or support, is a bully,” said Ms. Miller-Meeks, who voted for Mr. Jordan on the first ballot for speaker this week, but then switched on the second, drawing a menacing backlash.

Mr. Jordan has disavowed the threats, writing on social media on Wednesday night: “We condemn all threats against our colleagues and it is imperative that we come together. Stop. It’s abhorrent.”

He met behind closed doors on Thursday afternoon with the holdouts, after deciding to plunge ahead in a third try to become speaker.

But the intimidation tactics have persisted.

“22 establishment members of the CHAOS CAUCUS refused to vote for Jim Jordan during today’s first House speaker vote!” the conservative group Turning Point Action wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday. “Light up their phone lines!”

Kayla Guo and Robert Jimison contributed reporting.

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