They took victory laps on social media and shared old memes celebrating Johnson—with one image of Johnson particularly making the rounds: a picture of him winking next to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Trump era, alongside a copy of The Washington Post headlined “Trump acquitted.” (Johnson’s belief that Pelosi should face felony charges particularly tickled the right.)
But the honeymoon may already be over for Johnson—at least among the far right.
Late last week, when Johnson caught up with reporters in the Capitol and offered just lukewarm support for providing additional financial assistance to Ukraine, the new speaker quickly found himself in a difficult situation.
“We all do,” Johnson said of the Republican conference supporting additional support for Ukraine. “We’re going to have conditions on that, so we’re working through it.”
Speaker Mike Johnson was asked if he supports additional Ukraine aid.
“We all do…we are going to have conditions on that so we’re working through,” he said.
“We want accountability and we want objectives that are clear from the White House.“ pic.twitter.com/rABVPkHCDw
— Kyle Stewart (@KyleAlexStewart) October 25, 2023
Johnson presented the issue of aid to Ukraine as one of “accountability” and “clear objectives,” not as a hell-no, absolutely-not, America First issue as MAGA diehards increasingly see it.
While President Joe Biden’s White House has asked Congress to approve $100 billion as a package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and border security, Johnson has balked and instead attempted to separate the funding packages. So far, he has only sought $14.3 billion on behalf of Ukraine by cutting into IRS funding—which ironically would have the effect of costing the federal government $90 billion over 10 years, according to the head of the IRS.
But even before Johnson got the bad economic news about his proposal, he was getting plenty of blowback from the far right.
Anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer, whose commentary regularly gets reposted by former President Donald Trump on his Truth Social account, equated the freshly appointed speaker’s remarks to a “DISASTER.”
“I told you all yesterday he would be a DISASTER!” she said. “Looks like I was right!”
“Americans are right to be wary of Israel First Speaker Mike Johnson, who has bowed down to kiss Israel’s little Baby Shmekel by pushing funds to both Ukraine and Israel,” far-right podcaster and white nationalist Stew Peters told The Daily Beast.
“Mike Johnson is a shill for the Zionist Military Industrial Complex,” Peters added.
While it might be easy to dismiss Loomer and Peters as right-wing kooks, many inside of Trump’s orbit agree with some of the initial criticisms from the hard right.
Ukraine funding serves as one of the key sticking points for Trump allies, and Johnson’s tepid support for Ukraine is already rubbing them the wrong way. But Ukraine is far from their only criticism of Johnson. Notably, the early-stage concerns have evolved into a multiple-point list for Trumpworld detractors.
From old tweets supportive of Ukraine’s fight against Russia to his perceived friendly views on “critical race theory” to somehow not being supportive of Trump enough—a list has formed of his alleged sins.
President Zelenskyy presented to us a moving address in a rare joint session of Congress this morning. America stands with Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/fzMaDGuwcT
— Speaker Mike Johnson (@SpeakerJohnson) March 16, 2022
“There are several things, right,” Loomer said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “He’s made previous statements that make it seem like he’s sympathetic to CRT, and then additionally, I don’t really see him doing much to combat weaponized government.”
“He talks a big talk,” the controversial right-wing firebrand added, claiming Johnson has been inadequately defending Trump.
Asked about Johnson supporting funding on behalf of Ukraine, senior Trump adviser Jason Miller walked a thin line and avoided hitting the new House Speaker.
“I’m going to give Speaker Johnson a little bit of time to get his sea legs about him,” he said in a Friday interview. “He’s been in the job for 24 hours.”
When it comes to CRT, dark web pundit James Lindsay—a favorite among the right wing—has argued Johnson’s comments, at the very least, haven’t been clear on the topic.
“Does Speaker Mike Johnson really support CRT views?” he wondered on X last week. “Stuff from the midst of the Great Psy-ops of 2020 doesn’t tell me much. Everyone except the Woke has learned a lot since then. Clear statements would be great, though.”
Two Trump operatives who spoke with The Daily Beast agreed and said there are early signs that Johnson’s not on the right side of the Ukraine fight in Washington.
“Everyone’s first exposure to this guy was bizarre clips that sound like he supports CRT. Then he has one meeting with [Mitch] McConnell and walks out waving the Ukraine flag and pushing a stop-gap spending bill until January,” one Trump operative said.
Trump allies have also taken note of a new staffing addition to Johnson's team: Dan Ziegler. Ziegler previously worked at the Heritage Foundation's political arm, “Heritage Action for America,” and has donated to Ron DeSantis, a rival of Trump’s in the presidential primary. (Punchbowl News first reported Ziegler’s ties to DeSantis.)
“It’s definitely not helpful,” a Trump adviser said of Ziegler being a DeSantis donor. “People have been passing that Punchbowl story around this morning.”
As for Ukraine funding, Trump has repeatedly declared online and at MAGA rallies that House leadership should hold Ukraine hostage in exchange for the Biden White House cooperating with House GOP investigations into the president’s son, Hunter.
“Congress should refuse to authorize a single additional shipment of our depleted weapons stockpiles… to Ukraine until the FBI, DOJ, and IRS hand over every scrap of evidence they have on the Biden Crime Family’s corrupt business dealings,” Trump said at a rally over the summer.
Striking a similar tone, fellow Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has also drawn a line in the sand on additional Ukraine funding.
“Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine,” she said at a Trump rally.
As for Johnson, he might be off to a rough start, but there’s one thing most in Trump’s orbit agree on—that he has a chill temperament.
“He seems like a nice guy, but this is wartime politically,” a previously mentioned Trump operative said. “And everything he’s doing so far reeks of being in over his head.”