There is a MAGA fever dream over the idea of Donald Trump returning to politics much sooner than the presidential primaries in 2023. Pointing to a quirk in the rules, "many people are saying" that Donald Trump could be named House Speaker if the GOP regains its majority in 2022, even if he never runs for Congress.
The idea of Speaker Trump was first floated by erstwhile Trump ally Steve Bannon in February. Speaking to a group of Boston Republicans, Bannon suggested that Trump run for Congress as part of a Republican House majority, then displace Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2023 before running for president again. In the middle of this, Bannon inserted the Big Lie as a rationale: "We totally get rid of Nancy Pelosi, and the first act of President Trump as Speaker will be to impeach Joe Biden for his illegitimate activities of stealing the presidency," Bannon said to shouts and applause. Later, Trump would muse on a radio appearance with far-right talk show host Wayne Allyn that the idea was "so interesting"—and a better one than running for the Senate, in his mind.
What Bannon and Allyn didn't realize, but what has some observers concerned, is that while tradition holds that the Speaker be a member of the governing majority in the House, there is nothing in the actual U.S. Constitution that requires this. Article 1, Section 2 states only that "The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers" and by tradition they have done so by roll-call vote. A smattering of votes in the past have been cast for non-members, but if Trump stood for the position in a GOP-led House, it would present a serious challenge to Keven McCarthy.
First off, let's dispel the likelihood of a Trump Speakership. That chance that even someone as unprincipled as McCarthy would grovel so low as to cede power to Trump as Speaker, even should the GOP retake the House, is quite low. McCarthy will do what is best for himself and his own power, and that doesn't likely include giving it up without a fight. Moreover, McCarthy knows how to maneuver his own caucus and round up votes, or he wouldn't be where he is today.
This is not to say that the idea can't be very poisonous. McCarthy seemed flustered, for example, when asked directly about the possibility. On Friday on Fox News, Brian Kilmeade asked him, "Would you be for President Trump becoming Speaker?" McCarthy laughed nervously and stated, "You know, I've talked to President Trump many times. He tells me he wants [inaudible] to be Speaker, and I think he should be president." McCarthy's office hastily issued a clarification of what appears to have been an attempt at humor, with a press spokesperson telling a reporter that McCarthy misspoke: "He meant and said 'me' to be Speaker, but understand that might not have sounded crystal clear in that he meant to say it was him Trump wants to be Speaker," the spokesperson explained.
Republicans in Congress understand that the Speaker's job is a critical, procedure-filled, and strategic job. It sets the agenda for the majority in legislation, and the Speaker is primarily responsible for holding that majority through electoral victory. Someone as inexperienced and full of bluster as Trump may appeal superficially to voters, but the members themselves know it would be an unmitigated disaster.
Perhaps more critically, the idea of Donald Trump being third in line for the presidency and back in the driver's seat of one of our branches of government is so repulsive to voters on the left and to a large swath in the middle that it could fuel massive turnout again in 2022. Should Trump actually campaign on this idea in order to turn out his base (again, unlikely), it could backfire for the GOP, which needs Democrats to sit out the midterms.
This is not to say that the ex-president won't have an outsized influence on the upcoming midterms. As I wrote about recently, Trump's chosen candidates could and likely will dominate the primaries, and Trump has not shied from endorsing the most loyal yet deplorable among them.
I can't help but draw a comparison here to the pandemic. If President Biden is the vaccine to Trump's virus, then the reemergence of Trump in 2022 is like the delta variant, more contagious and deadly to those who refuse to be grounded in reality, but also threatening to our entire recovery and our way forward as it takes holds and mutates. Meanwhile, we who are fully vaccinated feel secure in our decisions and ready to move on, but we may not completely understand what a resurgence could mean. Vigilance, truth and full civic engagement are the weapons we have against both scourges. We would be wise to deploy them early and meet the threat head-on.