Speaker Johnson Insights from Principal Tim Chapman


After the motion to vacate the speakership of Rep. Kevin McCarthy on October 3, 2023, the members of the U.S. House of Representatives held a rare intra-term election to determine the next to hold this crucial position. On October 25, 2023, after four ballots of voting, Rep. Mike Johnson (LA-4) was elected the 56th speaker of the House.

In the days since Johnson’s election, many have been quick to claim relationships with this new, unexpected speaker and predict how he may govern. In truth, Johnson’s trusted circle is small but growing fast. To forecast the path forward, it is crucial to first understand the dynamics, background, and relationships that led to his rise to the gavel.


Representing Louisiana’s 4th District, Johnson first came to Congress in 2017 after serving in the Louisiana House of Representatives. He has a background in law and litigation, working as an attorney in private practice and for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – a top conservative litigation firm that focuses on religious liberty and other socially conservative priorities. Johnson also served as chair of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) from 2019 to 2021 and was vice chair of the House Republican Conference from 2021 to 2023.

Ideologically, Johnson is a Reagan Republican who believes in a strong national defense, limited government, and socially conservative values. His conservatism tends to be more traditional than populist but he will make common cause with the populist wing of the party on shared priorities.


Johnson ultimately ascended to the role because he was the most acceptable to the various Republican factions in the House.

The House GOP is massively fractured.

This conference ranges from the small group who originally initiated the vote to oust McCarthy, to the expanded group of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), to the 80-plus ideological conservatives who backed Rep. Jim Jordan on the first vote in conference, to moderate Republicans sitting in Biden-won districts, to those in leadership positions and those vying to be and finally to Appropriators and Chairmen. All these various Republican factions had different interests in mind when determining the next speaker. All nominees before Johnson received blackballs from at least one unhappy faction to push their preferred candidate ahead.

In an election based on personality and relationships, Johnson ultimately survived factional attacks because he was the first option to be acceptable to all groups. With a calm, and collegial demeanor, Johnson is recognized as trustworthy and genuine.

It is also worth a brief look back at the dynamics in the House conference that created the House Freedom Caucus and the modern version of the Republican Study Committee because it helped shape today’s conference dynamics and the vote for Johnson and previous votes against other would-be speakers.

In 2013, Steve Scalise won the RSC Chairmanship in a hotly contested race. This election followed the chairmanship of Jim Jordan that was marked by contentious fighting between the RSC and GOP House leadership. House leadership was widely seen as having their thumb on the scales for Scalise in this race in order to bring the RSC back into leadership’s orbit and prevent further infighting. When Scalise won the chairmanship, many RSC members were upset and eventually formed the House Freedom Caucus. The net effect was that the RSC became a middle ground between leadership and the HFC. In that middle ground the RSC focused more on policy while fights on tactics occurred between the leadership and the HFC.

This history was not lost on HFC members who formed a blockade against Scalise’s effort to win the gavel. Still, it was not all a boon for Johnson who himself had to overcome some HFC skepticism. Johnson was initially a member of the HFC when he came to Congress but left and eventually became RSC Chairman while also serving in GOP leadership. One little known backstory was that Johnson leaving HFC was part of a strategy with certain leaders of HFC to grow one of their own in GOP ranks. Ultimately this background, plus other Johnson attributes, helped him win the support of HFC members for the Speakership.


Johnson’s orbit and team of advisors is smaller than any other modern speaker. This is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. In fact his tight circle may be a reason why he was selected. Johnson’s lack of connections made him a neutral candidate that all parties could work to build relationships with.

In terms of previous relationships, he is connected with many Heritage Action alumni and has already brought one of them, Dan Ziegler, on to run his policy operation. He also is close with Tony Perkins, a fellow Louisianian and the President of Family Research Council. Perkins helped lobby the conservative movement for Johnson before the Speaker vote.


Overall, it is unlikely that there will be a massive difference in results for the Republican party because of continuing, underlying dynamics. The most notable change from Rep. McCarthy’s speakership to Rep. Johnson, however, will be a longer grace period with House conservatives.

While Speaker Johnson will have to follow in McCarthy’s footsteps in some ways, he is likely to fight harder for conservative priorities, even if the outcomes aren’t drastically different. Johnson has been a committed conservative his whole public life and therefore is likely to be a more forceful advocate for the conservative position with the White House and the Senate.

As a committed limited government conservative, he will be policy-aligned with the Freedom Caucus in current fights but could find disagreements in terms of tactics and broader strategy.

In regards to fundraising, Johnson will likely keep McCarthy’s structure and not make massive changes but look for additional help across the Republican ecosystem to come.

Johnson’s in-party opposition and conflicts are yet to be determined, though early opposers such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Thomas Massie on Israel funding hint at conflicts to come.

This insight was provided by Tim Chapman, Principal of GuidePost Strategies and former Heritage Action for America (HAFA) Executive Director.

For more information, please contact GuidePost Strategies.

Related Posts

GuidePost Strategies Welcomes New Partner, Jennifer Yocham Poersch

Poersch brings nearly two decades of government affairs and public policy expertise to continue providing ...

Phil Cox on Ruthless Podcast on the Iowa Caucuses

GPS Partner Phil Cox was recently interviewed on the podcast Ruthless, a top political podcast ...

GuidePost’s Tim Chapman in the National Review