In his pre-Sundance, Hollywood golden boy, leading man days, Robert Redford starred in a cynical, sometimes comical take on the world of political campaigns — and even if you haven’t seen the film, you know its memorable final line.
In 1972’s “The Candidate,” Redford, who plays “The Candidate,” sheds authenticity and conviction as he begins to taste a U.S. Senate seat. And after — spoiler alert — he wins, the senator-elect interrupts the triumphant, climactic moment, corners the campaign manager who has shepherded his unlikely ascent, and asks, panic rising in his voice: “What do we do now?”
Jacket or no jacket, Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, bless his heart, is never going to remind anyone of Robert Redford — except that both have a shockingly skimpy record of legislative achievements.
But more and more, as I watched the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives try — and fail — to bring just a semblance of order to its caucus, that scene read as documentary, predicting party members so obsessed with winning the prize, they had no interest in nor inclination to figure out why they wanted it in the first place or what to do if they actually got it.
In Jordan’s case, I wondered about a candidate whose authenticity and conviction were always kind of shaky. Congressman, why would you want to be in charge of a body you always seemed more comfortable attacking, when you served as the first chair of the conservative Freedom Caucus — lobbing fireworks as an outsider — or treated a subpoena from a bipartisan committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection like trash?
You can’t paper over the lack of a reasonable and positive plan that might require compromise by raising the decibel level. And boy, does Jordan yell a lot, usually while interrupting anyone trying to answer one of his convoluted “gotcha” questions during hearings of the Judiciary Committee that he chairs.
Maybe Jordan just wanted to bang the gavel over and over again, or open up yet another Hunter Biden impeachment inquiry.
Some would say Jordan disqualified himself from any leadership post in this American democracy when he decided, after the Jan. 6 riot that endangered him and his colleagues, to join a majority of the House GOP caucus in rejecting President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.
You can count me among the some, scared as I would be of what he might do if a similarly close 2024 election hinges on the integrity, patriotism and courage of a Speaker Jordan, who has been sketchy about his communications with former President Donald Trump about the 2020 election. Even now, he has not brought himself to definitively saying Trump lost.
Jordan’s power grab did not go as planned. Who could have predicted that his bullying tactics — demonizing skeptical GOP House members and enlisting online and on-air supporters to harass opponents — would have had the opposite effect?
The scenario, however, makes perfect sense for the party of Donald Trump. No Plan B? No problem. Trump wanted to be president so he could be president, in the same way House Republicans craved control but had no interest in doing the work, as long as it would create a meme, sound bite or fundraising appeal.
In dangerous times, that’s dangerous.
With scenes of death and devastation in Israel and Gaza, what wisdom does Trump offer? Well, the “rigged election” of 2020 is to blame, in his telling, as grotesque as that clearly sounds.
Trump’s endorsement of Jordan this time proved more curse than blessing, though the former president’s sycophants can’t quite quit him. Still, pleading his Trump-approved case with a healthy dose of arm-twisting did not win Jordan any points with fellow House Republicans, some residing from districts Biden won in 2020, some who want to get results and thought the firebrand with a thin resume wasn’t a good fit, and some who just didn’t seem to like him very much.
Jordan actually lost votes the second time around on Wednesday.
That apparently has not deterred him, with reports he hopes to win over “no” votes, perhaps with his winning personality.
Is GOP Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, now filling in as speaker, the answer? Giving him the power to do something, anything, could be the next act — one of desperation — after more GOP closed-door meetings, no doubt.
Well, what about the Democrats? With such a narrow majority, Republicans might remember that their colleagues across the aisle, who have remained pretty united under the leadership of Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, represent a healthy chunk of the American people, too.
It’s not as though the list of crises at home and abroad is getting any shorter.
When the clerk at the grocery store expresses concern, as mine did this week, noting that a government shutdown looms, it may be a sign that the American people are paying attention to the mess in D.C. and wish that leaders would somehow return the favor and act responsibly.
Increasingly, voting Americans with everything at stake are the ones anxiously asking themselves: “What do we do now?”
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. She is host of the CQ Roll Call “Equal Time with Mary C. Curtis” podcast. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.