Years before taking a leading role in trying to help President Donald J. Trump remain in office after the 2020 election or defending him in two separate Senate impeachment trials, President Mike Johnson bluntly asserted that Mr. Trump was unfit to serve and could be a danger as president.
“The problem with Donald Trump is that he doesn’t have the character and moral center that we desperately need back in the White House,” Mr. Johnson wrote in a lengthy Facebook post on August 7 2015, before being elected to Congress and one day after the first debate of the Republican primaries of the campaign cycle.
Asked about his comments by someone defending Mr. Trump, Mr. Johnson responded: “I’m afraid he’s going to break more things than he fixes.” He is a hothead by nature, and that is a dangerous trait to have in a commander in chief.
Mr. Johnson, then a Louisiana state lawmaker, also wondered what would happen if he “decided to bomb another head of state simply by disrespecting him.”
“I’m only half joking,” he wrote. “I just don’t think he has the attitude of a president.”
The comments come at a time when many Republicans who would later become Trump loyalists were denigrating him and calling him unfit to hold the nation’s highest office. Only later did they align themselves and serve as front-line defenders of his most extreme words and actions.
But Mr. Johnson’s anti-Trump speech has, so far, gone unnoticed, largely because Mr. Johnson himself has done it before as well. his unlikely election to the presidency last month place it in second position after the presidency.
These days, Mr. Johnson does nothing but praise Mr. Trump and defend him against what he sees as politically motivated indictments and criminal charges. Mr. Trump praised Mr. Johnson as someone who has acted as a loyal soldier since the start of his political rise.
In a lengthy statement to the New York Times on Monday evening attempting to distance himself from the comments, Mr. Johnson publicly supported Mr. Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign for the first time, and said his previous statements had been made before that he does not know Mr. Trump personally. . He attributed them to the fact that “his style was very different from mine.”
“During his 2016 campaign, President Trump quickly won over me and millions of my fellow Republicans,” Mr. Johnson said. As I got to know him personally shortly after we both arrived in Washington in 2017, I learned to appreciate the person he is and the qualities that made him the extraordinary president that he was. .
Mr Johnson, who campaigned for Mr Trump in 2020, added: “Since we met, we have always had a very good and friendly relationship. The President and I enjoy working together, and I look forward to doing so again when he returns to the White House. »
A spokesperson for Mr. Trump declined to comment on the messages.
In 2015, Mr. Johnson, who would announce his first run for Congress the following year, wrote that he was horrified watching Mr. Trump’s debate with his wife and children.
“What bothered me most was looking at the face of my exceptional 10-year-old son, Jack, at one point, when he looked at me with a kind of confused disappointment, while the leader of all the polls boasted of calling a woman a ‘fat pig’.”
In one of the most famous exchanges of that debate, Megyn Kelly, a moderator and then host of Fox News, asked Mr. Trump about his history by calling women “fat pigs, dogs, rednecks and disgusting animals.”
“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Mr. Trump replied. He said the country’s problem was political correctness, something he didn’t have time for.
Mr Johnson was horrified.
“Can you imagine the noble and selfless characters of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln or Reagan acting as Trump did last night? » wrote Mr. Johnson, an evangelical Christian. He stressed that voters should demand “a much higher level of virtue and decency” than what he had just witnessed.
During the Trump administration, Mr. Johnson maintained friendly relations with the president. In 2020, he accompanied him and other House Republicans to the college football national championship game between Louisiana State University and Clemson.
After that year’s elections, he played a leading role in recruiting Republicans to the House of Representatives. sign a legal brief, rooted in baseless claims of widespread election irregularities, supporting a lawsuit seeking to overturn the results. On November 8, 2020, Mr. Johnson was on stage at a church in northwest Louisiana to speak about Christianity in America when Mr. Trump called him to discuss legal challenges to the election results.
In recent years, Mr. Johnson, a constitutional lawyer, used a podcast he hosted with his wife to defend Mr. Trump against four different indictments and the criminal charges against him.
“I think each of these bogus prosecutions are overtly weaponized political prosecutions of Donald Trump,” Mr. Johnson said in one episode.
On another, Mr. Johnson proclaimed: “No one has done better in the White House than President Trump.” »
During last month’s presidential race, Mr. Trump praised Mr. Johnson, noting that he was someone who “had my back, both mentally and spiritually, from the very beginning of our GREAT Victory of 2016”.
Mr. Johnson is far from alone in expressing deep concerns about Mr. Trump, only to later accept him and his agenda.
In 2015, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called Mr. Trump a “racist, xenophobic, religious bigot,” as well as a “whacko,” “crazy” and a man “unfit for office.” He has become Mr. Trump’s most loyal defender in the Senate.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the penultimate man standing in the 2016 Republican primary, called Mr. Trump a “pathological liar” who was “totally amoral,” a “serial womanizer” and a “narcissistic on some level”. I don’t think this country has ever been seen. Mr. Cruz explained his decision to become a staunch defender of Mr. Trump as a “responsibility” to his voters.
Mick Mulvaney, the former Republican congressman who became the president’s acting chief of staff, in 2016 called his future boss a “terrible human being” who made “disgusting and indefensible” comments about women.
Unlike other lawmakers who have followed suit, Mr. Johnson has presented himself as someone with deep religious convictions, whose worldview is driven by his faith.