Speaker of the House Mike Johnson was in the news today for two reasons that seem totally unrelated. The first was his speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum at a ceremony at which President Biden and Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries both spoke as well. The second was a report that Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican pot-stirrer threatening to have Johnson’s speakership pulled out from under him, has moderated her rhetoric a bit regarding her crusade against Johnson.

Yet I don’t think the two stories are disconnected from each other at all.

The content of Johnson’s speech this morning was a clear and uncompromising sermon on the role the educated classes played in paving the road to the Holocaust. It could not have been more fitting for the moment, nor could it have been more exact in its diagnosis of the ills spreading through American higher education:

German universities, like those at Strasbourg, were at the heart of the renaissance and intellectual life. But it was at those same elite centers of learning where Jewish faculty and students were expelled, where anti-Jewish courses were introduced, and where professors performed horrific pseudo-science experiments on Jews brought from nearby concentration camps.

We remember what happened then, and today, we are witnessing American universities quickly become hostile places for Jewish students and faculty.

The very campuses which were once the envy of the international academy have succumbed to an antisemitic virus. Students who were known for producing academic papers, are now known for stabbing Jewish peers in the eyes with Palestinian flags.

Faculty who once produced cutting-edge research are linking arms with pro-Hamas protestors calling for a ‘global intifada.’

Administrators who were once lauded by their peers for leadership are barring Jewish faculty and choosing not to protect their Jewish students. Jewish students are physically threatened when they walk on campus, as their peers hold posters repeating the Nazi propaganda and the program: the final solution.

Johnson then made an evocative proposal—for the survivors to close their eyes and hear the sounds of their torment at the hands of the Nazis only to open their eyes and see that those same sounds came from Hamas on Oct. 7.

Had Johnson been a natural orator, the speech would have been described everywhere as “fiery.” Yet it wasn’t fiery at all. Johnson’s delivery was straightforward, nontheatrical and perhaps a bit incongruous with its text. And yet it worked perfectly.

Watching the speech, I did not see awkwardness but rather something more compelling: a floor leader growing into his position. Johnson was a compromise candidate for speaker who seemed neither inspired nor inspiring. It turns out, that’s probably just what the GOP needed. He does not covet attention or drama, and he does not see every appearance as a performance. He does not shoehorn partisan politics into every nook and cranny he finds, and he does not seem terribly interested in settling scores.

This has interesting effects on the Republican infighting that has paralyzed the party’s ability to govern. First it’s got to take the wind out of Greene’s sails, and the sails of anyone else who just wants to fight, grind the gears of government, and further their brand. So I wasn’t too surprised to read that Greene is “saying she will give the Speaker more time to demonstrate his commitment to conservative priorities before forcing a vote on her resolution to boot him from power,” according to the Hill, which notes that Greene’s previous position was that she’d force that vote this week and keep the “vacate” train rolling.

To be clear, she’s not doing this because of Johnson’s speech today. She has met for hours with the speaker yesterday and today to talk over their differences. Additionally, Donald Trump has tried to convince her to give Johnson more of a chance, which surely influenced the firebrand—perhaps more than anything else. But Johnson’s style makes it difficult to catastrophize when sitting in a room with him.

And if Johnson’s temperament deprives Greene of fuel for her rage, imagine what it does to the rest of the Republican caucus. Johnson may not be charismatic but charisma would do him no good here anyway. He has the same effect on the party’s House contingent as Benadryl. Just try to sustain a mutinous rage at this guy.

I don’t know if Mike Johnson is good at this but he clearly is good for this. At the moment, that might be good enough for everyone.

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