California Republicans in swing districts backed Trump ally Jordan for speaker

He built his brand on being a roaring archconservative unafraid to take on liberals. He was a pioneer of this new right-wing faction that has become the face of the Republican Party. He was former President Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. House of Representatives. And now, he’s put California Republicans in a tough spot.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan ended his bid to lead the lower chamber Friday after facing stiff opposition from moderates and other lawmakers in key districts.

But all five California Republicans from districts President Biden won in 2020 — Young Kim of La Habra, David Valadao of Hanford, Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita, Michelle Steel of Seal Beach and John Duarte of Modesto — stood firmly behind Jordan throughout his three failed attempts to secure the gavel.

The five Californians’ decision to back the Ohioan could come back to haunt them. Jordan’s deep ties to former President Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election may not sit well with key voters in swing districts, Democratic strategist and pollster Cornell Belcher told The Times Friday.

“You have someone in Jim Jordan that encapsulates all that they dislike about MAGA and the Trump era,” Belcher said. “Jordan is the Donald Trump of the House of Representatives. And those swing voters have rejected Donald Trump.”

House Republicans have struggled to pick a leader since eight Republicans on Oct. 3 teamed up with Democrats to remove Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield from the speaker’s chair.

McCarthy’s historic ouster left the lower chamber in chaos. Republicans have proven unable to secure a simple majority to elect a speaker who can call floor votes on critical legislation, including bills to respond to the conflicts engulfing Israel and Ukraine and avert a government shutdown by mid-November.

Polling indicates that voters are annoyed by the chaos.

Forty-nine percent of GOP respondents disapprove of how congressional Republicans are handling their jobs, according to a Thursday poll conducted by Global Strategy Group and released by Navigator Research, a Democratic firm. Sixty-nine percent of all voters said they disapproved the way congressional Republicans handle their jobs.

Republicans have become more likely to say they would blame their own party for the chaos in Washington. On Sept. 11, 32% of Republicans polled said they would blame their own party most if the government shut down. By Oct. 16, that figure had grown to 36%.

“The fact that Jim Jordan has gotten up to 200 votes is a reflection: He and Trump represent the GOP,” Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist, told The Times. “They are symptoms of the same problem. The party has moved hard into the MAGA direction.”

“It’s not right, it’s not left,” she said. “It’s just Trump.”

Duarte and Garcia’s races are considered “toss-ups,” Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, noted Friday. Cook rates Valadao and Steel’s races as lean Republican, while Kim’s is likely Republican.

Spokespeople for Garcia, Steel and Duarte did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, Kim told The Times that McCarthy’s removal has kneecapped the chamber from responding to pertinent issues.

“I have worked in good faith to be part of the solution and support our conference’s nominees, but it’s clear no candidate has the votes to be Speaker at this time,” Kim told The Times in a statement after the Friday vote. Kim said her conference should empower North Carolina Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, who is serving as speaker pro tempore, to pass critical legislation, until a leader is elected.

Valadao has said in statements that he backed Jordan “because we need to get back to work” and that he would support a plan to empower McHenry.

Spokespeople for Kim and Valadao would not say who the lawmakers would back after Jordan dropped out and at least five Republicans — Reps. Austin Scott of Georgia, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Pete Sessions of Texas, Byron Donalds of Florida and Jack Bergman of Michigan — said they would run for speaker.

McHenry said he would not run to stay in the chair. But empowering him could still be on the table if his caucus cannot agree on who should lead them.

The plan to empower McHenry, which would probably need buy-in from House Democrats, fell flat Thursday afternoon when it became clear Republicans overwhelmingly were against it, leaving the lower chamber floundering as it’s set to enter its fourth week without a permanent leader.

California Republicans’ pragmatic explanations for backing Jordan have not stopped anti-Trump groups from going after them.

On the Friday before Jordan dropped out, Congressional Integrity Report, a Democrat-aligned nonprofit, released ads highlighting the Ohioan’s ties to the right wing of his party.

The digital ad noted that Jordan founded the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus, denied the results of the 2020 presidential election and is “arguably the member of Congress most involved in Donald Trump’s attempted coup.”

“Anyone who endorses Jordan and any member who votes for him is affirmatively voting for a coup plotter, an election denier and a foe of American democracy,” the ad said.

Jordan, who voted against certifying many of these election results, “was a significant player in President Trump’s efforts,” the House Jan. 6 committee noted in its final report.

Garcia is the only of the five who voted against certifying some election results.

Denying the outcome of the 2020 presidential election remains deeply unpopular among key voters, Belcher said. In 2022, many Democratic candidates ran on a platform saying their party would save American democracy. This argument resonated with voters as Democrats blunted what should have been a massive red wave for the GOP, Belcher said.

The protracted infighting among House Republicans is “an absolute gift” to Democrats, he added. Belcher predicted that progressives competing in tight California districts will run attack ads prominently featuring their opponents’ support for Jordan, as advocacy groups did this week.

Other experts, though, say all hope is not lost for these Californians.

Their chances to stay in Washington will heavily depend on their messaging, said Whit Ayers, a longtime Republican pollster. If the Californians can show that they backed Jordan for practical reasons, voters may be able to excuse their support for him.

“I think that’s a pretty effective argument for some people,” Ayres said.

Voters who are paying very close attention may recall that the GOP refused to empower McHenry to get business done while the speaker race continues. But Ayres doubted most voters are following that closely.

“It’s so much of an inside game most people are simply not aware of it,” Ayres said.

Pinho reported from Santa Barbara.