After years of bucking Republican Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan on everything from health care to approving spending bills to keep the federal government open, local Congressman Jim Jordan has launched a bid to become leader of the House Republicans.
On Wednesday, in a private meeting of House Republicans, Jordan will face Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the current House majority leader, who announced last weekend that he already has the votes to become House minority leader. Despite the odds against him, Jordan and his band of conservatives hope to persuade their colleagues that the Urbana Republican would make a scrappier leader for the party, which next year will be in the minority for the first time since 2010.
For Jordan, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, Wednesday’s vote is just the latest in a series of steps he has taken to nudge House Republicans to the right. If he were to succeed, he would be a heavy favorite to become the speaker of the House the next time Republicans seize control.
But many Republicans, most of whom insisted on speaking anonymously, insist that while Jordan is the face of the House conservative group he founded, the Freedom Caucus, his quest to lead the House Republicans is an uphill battle.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said one GOP operative, who said leadership elections are “a mix of popularity contests and a contest of who will be the most effective. On both of those counts, I think he loses out.”
A Republican adviser on Capitol Hill said Jordan “has enough Freedom Caucus people who would vote for him — and probably a handful of others — to launch a message to the current leadership, but I don’t see him getting anything beyond that.”
Others point to accusations that as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1987 to 1995 he ignored complaints from wrestlers that they were being sexually abused by a team doctor — a charge Jordan has vehemently denied.
Mike DiSabato, one of the former wrestlers accusing Jordan of ignoring the wrestlers’ complaints, said it takes “serious audacity” for Jordan to run for House leadership after such accusations.
Some see Jordan as the right person at the right time. Much like Newt Gingrich, who led a take no prisoners opposition to House Democrats when he was minority leader in 1993 and 1994, Jordan’s uncompromising style might suit younger Republicans yearning to fight the likely new House speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.
Jordan represents “a highly motivated, highly ideological wing of the Republican Party that has been desperately seeking power within the Republican Party for several years,” said David Cohen, a professor of political science at the University of Akron.
“Now that they no longer have to deal with a Republican speaker, what better time for the organization to flex its muscle than to try to get one of its own in the top leadership spots of the party?” Cohen said. “The only thing that the House minority leader can do is be an aggressive opposition. And Jim Jordan seems almost perfectly cast for that role.”
Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County Tea Party, said Jordan as minority leader “would give us a stronger voice. We trust him implicitly. Other than Donald Trump, he’s pretty much the only politician we’ve ever said that does what he says. That’s pretty high praise.”
Working against Jordan may be his repeated unwillingness to compromise, with critics saying he personifies the concept that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Former Speaker Boehner, who Jordan helped topple from office in 2015, has dismissed Jordan and his conservative allies as “legislative terrorists” who are “for nothing.”
Mark Caleb Smith, the director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, said while Jordan has a chance to be successful in his bid for majority leader, “I don’t think the odds are in his favor.”
But Smith said “if enough members are convinced that the way forward is to be bold, and side with the president aggressively, or to be more overtly conservative in matters, someone like Jordan may make sense.”
“If the GOP’s goal is to be a thorn in the side of the Democrats, Jordan will probably do that more consistently than McCarthy,” Smith said.