Johnson faces waves of buyer’s remorse

House GOP insiders view the new speaker as a man perpetually without a plan.

For nine months in his speakership, Kevin McCarthy seemed like a man with a title but no power — desperately improvising to keep his job amid factions ready to turn on him in an instant.

Now, in his fourth month in alleged power, Speaker Mike Johnson has accomplished what once seemed unthinkable: making McCarthy seem like a skilled strategist and master of the House.

Interviews with multiple Republicans over the last few days across multiple House factions — people who consider themselves on Johnson’s team, as well as those who were never enthusiastic about his rise — describe a speaker who seems to be winging it on major questions of strategy, messaging and basic vote-counting.

Dismay over Johnson’s seemingly limp grasp on the speaker’s gavel has even produced a new trend of sorts: McCarthy nostalgia.

“Kevin would have a strategy, he’d shop it around, then he’d make a play call,” a senior Republican lawmaker said. “The more I’m around Johnson, the more it’s clear to me he doesn’t have a plan.”

Some are even going on the record. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a libertarian gadfly who was never considered a McCarthy ally, openly pined for the former speaker last week after Republicans suffered another embarrassing floor defeat.

“Getting rid of Speaker McCarthy has officially turned into an unmitigated disaster,” he tweeted

It’s not getting any easier for Johnson. To start, there’s the $95 billion supplemental spending bill funding aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that arrived Tuesday from the Senate.

For months, Johnson has struggled to articulate a strategy for dealing with the issue.

On Israel, he offered a proposal last year to fund its security needs early in its war with Hamas, but included spending offsets to placate the House GOP’s right flank — which made the bill dead on arrival in the Senate. Last week, Johnson backtracked and removed the offsets, but conservatives balked, and the bill went down on the floor.

On Ukraine, he expressed early support for its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin, then demanded border provisions be attached to any aid bill, then joined with Donald Trump to tank a bipartisan border compromise forged in the Senate. This week, he criticized the Senate bill for not including any border provisions.

His response to the Senate bill threatens to cement a reputation for dithering in the face of tough decisions. Other members of the GOP leadership team are left entirely in the dark about what he’s thinking until he makes a decision, leaving it difficult to message key policy issues to the public and prepare the rank-and-file for tough votes.

“I’m as confused as ever about what he wants,” one senior GOP aide said about the foreign aid questions. “He hasn’t given us any direction. … I think right now he’s in survival mode.”

Added another, “Not sure what the speaker wants to do on that — as with most things, he’s all over the place.”