WASHINGTON — To Jim Jordan, it’s breathtakingly simple.
He says Democrats went to great lengths to keep Donald Trump from becoming president, even hiring people to compile what he says was a phony dossier about Trump to get the FBI to spy on him. When that didn’t work, Jordan says, they — with the help of the Justice Department — launched a bogus investigation of the 45th president.
All of this, he says, has been part of a “crazy” effort with one goal: to kick Trump out of office.
Jordan’s job? Stopping it.
As the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Jordan, a seven-term congressman from Urbana whose district includes Lima, demonstrated his willingness to do just that last week when he and fellow Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows spent seven hours sparring with Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who in May will go to prison for lying to Congress, financial crimes and campaign-finance violations.
Clad in his typical shirtsleeves — he wears a coat only on the House floor or to meet with Trump — Jordan lit up Twitter, becoming the third-most-popular search of the day and providing a snapshot of what a polarizing political figure Jordan has become. So prominent was he in the hearing that comedian Bill Hader portrayed him in the opening skit of “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend.
Jordan’s critics say he’s a Trump sycophant and an ideologue. One Twitter user said Jordan has “a punchable face.” Another wished explosive diarrhea upon him.
To hard-core conservatives, though, he’s a rock star.
Fellow Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson of Troy, in an interview last year, recounted how crowds swarmed Jordan at a Trump event before November’s elections. That adulation was reflected on Twitter last week, with one supporter tweeting: “@Jim_Jordan You are a hero and #Patriot in my book Sir. God Bless you and your family.”
David Niven, a politics professor at the University of Cincinnati, said Jordan not only appeals to the conservative base, but he also almost “exudes” what its members are all about. To them, he’s a fierce and dogged defender of their values. But the downside is that while Jordan represents much of the GOP base’s belief system, “he’s still not getting to set the agenda,” in part because of what Nivens calls “his limitless commitment to one’s own position.”
“He’s like the poker player who bets everything he has on every single hand,” Nivens said. “He’ll never win in the end that way, but everybody pays attention to you every step of the way.”
Jordan insists his is not a do-or-die approach. He said he has worked with Democrats — former U.S. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich was a guest at Jordan’s daughter’s wedding — but at times you must take a stand.
“There are certain fundamental things you’ve got to fight for,” he said. “I’m not going to compromise on my position on the sanctity of human life. I’m not going to work with Democrats or Republicans to ever raise taxes too high. I want to lower them.”
Nor, he said, does he focus on the fact that he’s become a symbol of everything that Democrats — and even some more moderate Republicans — hate. Instead, he said, his focus is on holding federal agencies accountable, whether it is the IRS and its admitted singling out of conservative groups or the Department of Energy for making loans to companies such as Solyndra.
“If that means some people don’t like me — and it’s obvious if you read some of the Twitter comments — that’s what comes with it,” he said.
He insists he “wasn’t angry” when he was questioning Cohen. He just wanted the public to realize that the witness Democrats had asked to testify was deeply flawed. To emphasize it, he and Meadows sent a lengthy letter Thursday to Attorney General William Barr accusing Cohen of perjury in his most-recent testimony.
To supporters, Jordan is well-suited to defend Trump from what they believe are overblown scandals.
Barry Bennett, a GOP consultant who has worked for several Ohio Republican lawmakers as well as Trump, said both Jordan and Trump “share a healthy disgust for Washington.”
“I think they’re united by what they have in common,” he said, which is “the glue that holds them together.”
Tom Zawistowski, a Portage County Tea Party leader, said Jordan “is in the mold of Donald Trump.” He’s not a billionaire, Zawistowski said, but, like Trump, “is rock solid on promises.”
To critics, Jordan is doing what he’s always tried to do: stop things.
They say he effectively helped stop House Speaker John Boehner’s career, contributing to the Ohio Republican’s decision to retire in 2015. (Jordan says Boehner’s decision was his own.)
They blame him in part for a 2013 government shutdown that resulted from a conservative effort to force the repeal of Obamacare.
And they point to myriad other forced votes and conservative rebellions that provided a near-perpetual headache to GOP leaders during their time in the majority.
“He talks about government as if it’s a bad thing, and it’s just astonishing to me - he has worked in government for over 20 years,” said Janet Garrett, who has tried three times to unseat Jordan in Ohio’s 4th District. “He doesn’t want the government to work, so he doesn’t work for anything that would help his constituents, because that would undermine his argument.”
Niven said, “He’s got the anti-Dale Carnegie approach to life: how to lose friends and infuriate people.”
Jordan briefly looked vulnerable last year after some former wrestlers at Ohio State University accused him of turning a blind eye to allegations of sexual abuse by an Ohio State doctor while Jordan worked as an assistant wrestling coach there from 1987 to 1995. Jordan said he knew nothing of such allegations, denying them forcefully and consistently and hiring a crisis PR firm to help him fight the allegations.
The crisis continues to bedevil him on Twitter, but it hasn’t stopped him politically: He easily won re-election in November.
Jordan went on to run for House speaker in a closed-door meeting of House Republicans last November. He lost 159-43. But victory may not have been the point.
“Even though he didn’t win, he was clearly willing to take the risk and do the work it takes to become speaker,” Zawistowski said. “If Jim Jordan could be speaker during Trump’s second term, I would expect him to run for president of the United States.”
Paul Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State, said despite his notoriety, Jordan is a polarizing figure in his caucus, with detractors saying “he’s a cheap-shot artist and doesn’t really care much about party.”
But Jordan, he said, actually may be more influential now that he’s in the minority.
Certainly, his new role gives him a bigger megaphone.
“In some ways, it frees them of responsibility,” he said of Jordan and his fellow conservatives. “They can just tee off.”
Ranking Member Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, asks questions to Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, during a hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 27.