Have College Protesters Saved Mike Johnson’s Job?

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Just a week ago, House Speaker Mike Johnson was under heavy fire from the right flank of both his conference and the Republican base at large after putting Ukraine aid up for a vote. His speakership didn’t seem long for this world. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene had already written up the paperwork to oust the guy. When Congress returns to work this week, that saga could resume.

But how much have you heard about Johnson’s precarious employment in the past few days?

Very little, because the true enemies of the people have once again reared their ugly heads: leftist college students. Across the country, students have set up encampments in the center of universities to protest the government’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war and their schools’ investments in Israel. There is nothing, nothing, that either broadcast media or the Republican Party loves more than students attending $90,000-per-year universities complaining (about anything, really), and it’s sucked all of the attention out of the room.

So, incidentally, it’s been a timely political gift to Johnson, not only for presenting a useful shift in media focus but for providing him the ability to lean into it and win back favor from the right. Johnson and other Republicans visited the Columbia University encampment last week to protest the protesters, who heckled him throughout his remarks, precisely as he’d hoped they would. “Enjoy your free speech,” he quipped.

There is, of course, another entity that may be Johnson’s real salvation.

The speaker visited Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month for a joint event on “election integrity.” The real purpose, however, was to cozy up to the former president as Johnson prepared to risk his job on the Ukraine assistance vote.

This act of desperation paid off. Johnson, one way or another, persuaded Trump to stay neutral over the Ukraine vote rather than to actively come out swinging against it. (Turning a portion of the assistance into a “loan,” while mostly a gimmick, then crediting Trump with the idea, was useful here.) But the visit also persuaded Trump to back Johnson himself, too, against the calls for revolution coming from Greene.

“Well, look, we have a majority of one, OK?” Trump said of Johnson in a radio interview this week. “It’s not like he can go and do whatever he wants to do. I think he’s a very good person. You know, he stood very strongly with me on NATO when I said NATO has to pay up. … I think he’s trying very hard.”

The enduring loyalty Trump has shown Johnson will last all the way until the instant Johnson says anything that can be construed as unflattering to Donald Trump.

In other words, no one will be more upset at the end of the college semester than Mike Johnson.