Rep. Matt Gaetz seems to have former President Donald Trump’s ear—or at least wants the public to believe he does. Gaetz on last Wednesday said he spoke recently with the 45th president about returning to public life—as speaker of the House.
Gaetz, a Florida Republican, said in an interview with Sebastian Gorka that he talked to Trump about it, and told him, “You could do it for like three or four hours, give us a great speech,” because “America deserves that moment when Nancy Pelosi hands Donald Trump the gavel.”
This is of course predicated on Republicans retaking the House of Representatives in November—and by how many seats. But this seemingly far-fetched scenario of becoming speaker doesn’t seem entirely out of character for Trump. And it could be longer term than three or four hours. Though the fact Gaetz suggested implied he was having a rough time making the sale.
Importantly, the speaker doesn’t have to be a member of the House. All it takes for consideration is one member to nominate someone. Gaetz said several times last year he would nominate Trump for House speaker if the GOP regained the majority. As of now, all signs point to a great Republican midterm.
Suppose Donald Trump waits until early January 2023 to declare he will serve as speaker if elected. The narrative in the media and among Democrats is that congressional Republicans are petrified of incurring Trump’s wrath. If that’s the case, would Republicans vote to reject his bid?
Moreover, let’s note that two former presidents served in Congress after leaving the White House, so this prospect is not unheard of. Interestingly, like Trump, both of these presidents faced almost unhinged political opposition and obsessively negative media coverage during their time in the White House, while enemies cast their presidencies as illegitimate. John Quincy Adams left his mark on history by serving in the House post-presidency. Andrew Johnson had a short and uneventful Senate tenure, dying in office. Still, both set a standard that a former president can do something other than fade from the public scene.
This would also give Trump a special place in history. Just as William Howard Taft was the only former president to serve as Chief Justice, Trump could be the only former president to serve as House speaker.
There are certain pros (no really) and cons for Republicans having Trump as their leader in the House.
Making him the speaker of the House could make it less likely he will run for president in 2024, which is something many in the GOP would love to avoid.
A con is that many of those same Republicans that don’t want him to run in 2024 would prefer he just go away into the sunset like most other past presidents. But Trump won’t simply go away. The speakership would give him something to do—with far less work and responsibility than being president.
Congress could be an ideal place for Trump. There are members of Congress who are workhorses and those who are show horses. Trump could be the latter and have a platform for traveling the country and giving rallies without all the stresses of being president.
As speaker, Trump would be the highest-ranking Republican in the federal government for at least the remainder of President Joe Biden’s present term, which might prompt concern for those who recall his turbulent presidency.
But as much as Donald Trump supporters cast him as a bull kicking over the D.C. establishment tables while serving as president; and as much as Trump’s enemies claim he violated every norm and rejected expertise; both are wrong. During his four years in the White House, he generally let experts and Beltway veterans shape most of his policy—sometimes to the angst of the hardcore MAGA crowd. There was often a revolving door of those experts, but Trump didn’t replace them with amateurs. His personality, tweets, rhetoric, and style were unorthodox. But his domestic and foreign policy wasn’t that out of the ordinary for a Republican president, be it judicial nominees or his tax cut.
He would likely do the same as a speaker, outsourcing big decisions to House veterans while he utilizes his platform to bask in rallies that he loves.
Or at least up to a point.
The workhorse-show horse dynamic would only go so far. Establishment Republicans (and some anti-establishment GOP ready to move on) can’t expect the speakership would just be a distracting toy for Trump to do his rallies, give roaring House floor speeches and show up for votes.
He’ll use his power. But it’s difficult to imagine he won’t insist his caucus walk the plank for a Biden impeachment and other matters that don’t have a lot to do with advancing conservative policy. A Speaker Donald Trump won’t make Washington less polarized. House Democrats and liberal organizations would constantly be filing a barrage of petty complaints against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics. But he’s endured worse.
Certainly, this would be a bummer for House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who can smell the speakership. But this might hinge on just how the 2022 elections turn out.
A longshot Trump speakership could be more likely under two key factors. First, Trump-endorsed candidates do well in House Republicans primaries and are largely responsible for the new GOP House majority. But second, Republicans capture only a narrow majority in November, winning far fewer seats than anticipated. Not meeting expectations would mean someone gets blamed. And even without social media, Trump would have quite a megaphone to blame McCarthy.
It could be enough to block McCarthy’s speakership. At this point, Gaetz’s call for Donald Trump to be speaker would likely get serious and Trump might cast himself as bowing to the public clamoring to take the job.
A narrow majority with the bulk of freshmen he endorsed, and a sizeable number of incumbents glad he didn’t campaign against them in primaries, might be enough to make the Gaetz fantastic imaginativeness a reality.
Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and the author of “Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump.”