It’s perhaps one of the most important but least-understood facets of the MAGA movement’s dominance of the Republican Party: the role of threats and intimidation. Congressional Republicans have occasionally cited its impact in leading their colleagues to toe Donald Trump’s line — despite their better judgment and principles — with the most recent being retiring Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
But most don’t talk about it, some of those members have noted, because to call out the mob is to inflame it.
That’s started to change somewhat.
A handful of Republicans this week have not only stood up against the effort to install hard-right Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) as speaker; they’ve also stood up in a pretty striking way to the pressure tactics and attempted intimidation that came with it.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) offered a full-throated rebuke of these tactics shortly after Jordan failed on the second ballot Wednesday. (Jordan’s opposition grew from 20 Republicans to 22 Republicans — well more than the four GOP defections he can afford.)
Womack cited how his staff had been “cussed out, they’ve been threatened. It’s been nonstop. Most of them are out-of-state calls.”
“It’s a matter of how you treat people,” Womack said, as The Washington Post’s Jacqueline Alemany reported. “And frankly, based on what I’ve been through and what my staff has been through, it’s obvious what the strategy is: attack, attack, attack.”
Womack added that Jordan’s “tactics” had badly backfired.
Another holdout, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.), posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, “Intimidation and threats will not change my position.”
A third, Rep. Jen A. Kiggans (R-Va.), echoed that same message on X: “I was a helicopter pilot in the United States Navy … threats and intimidation tactics will not change my principles and values.”
A fourth, Rep. Carlos A. Gimenez (R-Fla.), said he brought this up directly with Jordan. “I told him, ‘I don’t really take well to threats,’” Gimenez told NBC News.
And a fifth, Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), more explicitly laid the blame at Jordan’s feet.
“He’s absolutely responsible for it,” Rutherford told Alemany. “And look, it doesn’t work. … Nobody likes to have their arm twisted.”
The degree to which these members suggest culpability for Jordan and his closest allies varies. And Jordan on Tuesday night did rebuke such tactics, posting on X that “We must stop attacking each other and come together.”
But there is no question that the situation was always likely to devolve like this. There is a cottage industry of right-wing influencers who have used these tactics to significant effect, mostly on behalf of Trump. Trump has for years conditioned his supporters to employ these tactics. And Jordan is very much of the MAGA movement.
Trump has repeatedly attacked any Republican who dares to criticize him, making them persona non grata in the party and often helping to usher them out the door. (Many of those who have cited threats were retiring or former members.)
He has repeatedly and suggestively alluded to the prospect of righteous violence by his supporters, continuing to do so even after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Some rioters say they understood themselves to be acting upon his wishes. A now-four-times-indicted Trump has also continued to go after prosecutors, judges, staff and potential witnesses in ugly ways that are difficult to understand as anything other than an attempt to influence them, with judges now restricting his speech because of it.
And the thing is: It works. It’s how you get the majority of House Republicans to sign off on rejecting the 2020 election results despite no real evidence of extensive voter fraud or malfeasance. It’s how you keep the party in line when you can’t stop creating problems for it, and when virtually all of the evidence suggests you’re a political liability.
So when the MAGA wing had a shot at getting one of its denizens installed as speaker, how else was it going to respond to those who might stand in the way?
The question from here is whether this pushback changes anything. The antidote to this kind of intimidation was always going be either the fever breaking or people starting to call it out and holding strong against it.
That’s easier to do when the guy on the other side is Jim Jordan rather than Trump, for obvious reasons. And we should hardly expect Republicans to suddenly speak in the same terms about their leading candidate for the 2024 presidential nomination.
But at the very least, the speaker drama has revealed the presence of some backbone among members of the Republican conference whose spine density was in question. And it has occasioned at least something of a conversation about ugly political tactics that is years overdue.