House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is still kind of new to the job. That’s one explanation for why he let it be known in some Republican circles that he was going to endorse House Freedom Caucus Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) in the GOP Senate primary to run against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
But Johnson inadvertently ran into a brick wall of opposition from Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.). They are both backing Republican candidate Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL and a candidate that Republican strategists generally consider a far stronger candidate than Rosendale.
Johnson also received pushback on the Rosendale endorsement from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his allies in the Senate. The speaker didn’t “stay in his lane,” which is a time-honored tradition when it comes to House and Senate leadership actions on endorsements.
Daines also chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, and he didn’t appreciate Johnson sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.
The speaker issued a statement saying that he would donate to Rosendale’s campaign but wouldn’t endorse him.
“The Speaker has committed to sending a contribution to Congressman Rosendale, as he has for other House colleagues and friends, but he has not made any endorsements in Senate races,” said Greg Steele, Johnson’s communications director. “He is singularly focused on growing the House majority.”
Rosendale tried to turn a negative into a positive by claiming he has the “D.C. Cartel” scared.
“Speaker Johnson and I have always had a great relationship. I am thankful for his continued support,” Rosendale said. “Mitch McConnell and the D.C. Cartel are TERRIFIED about me going to the U.S. Senate. They know they can’t control me; they know I won’t vote for McConnell as Leader. But they are fixin’ to find out that in Montana, we don’t take orders from Washington; we send orders to Washington!”
Rosendale certainly comes across as a fiercely independent politician.
Johnson informed a Republican senator about his decision to not follow through with the planned endorsement, according to a person familiar with the matter. Endorsing Rosendale also could have raised the ire of former President Donald Trump, whom the congressman famously snubbed on the House floor when Trump sought to speak to him on the telephone during the speakership race more than a year ago.
But McConnell and Daines’s opposition to Rosendale means that he’s going to have to make it to the Senate without the help of the leadership and without the blessing of the Republican establishment in Montana.
It should be an interesting primary race.