“The people’s House is back in business,” newly-elected Speaker Mike Johnson declared to Republican applause in his first speech after weeks of contentious politicking.

The people’s House may indeed be back in business, but with Johnson holding the gavel, social conservatism is back from a decades-long forced exile as well.

While Christian views on marriage, abortion, and other issues have long served as campaign fodder for Democrat attacks on Republican candidates, few Republican presidential candidate and even fewer Republican leaders have actually made these values central to their agendas. Sidelined for decades by war hawks and libertarians, social conservatives have long been the least popular guests at the Grand Old Party, paid plenty of lipservice but rarely finding champions in power–and often taking the blame for electoral losses.


That’s why President Donald Trump was so popular with the social right, much to the astonishment of outside observers and a few weak-kneed insiders. Americans might be surprised to learn that he was the first sitting president to attend the annual March for Life, given all the Democrat attack ads tying Republicans to the pro-life movement–and all the Republican promises to stand with them. 

Three years earlier, the brash New Yorker had become the first Republican presidential nominee to go on the offensive on abortion on the national stage, describing the grisly reality of the late-term abortions his opponent Hillary Clinton defended (but tried not to talk about).

Secular observers and even a couple of culture war veterans struggled to understand Christian voters’ enthusiasm for Trump, a man who clearly had not previously thought deeply on his faith over decades in public life. 

The reason for the support, however, was obvious: Christian Republicans were tired of loyalty to a party that didn’t return is. They were unsatisfied with decades of operating as a controlled opposition. They wanted at least as much respect as the war hawks who sent their children abroad, or the rich men who spent their political capital cutting taxes for income brackets far higher than most families’ earnings.

Christians have long formed a voting bloc essential to Republican victory, but long been forced to take a back seat to Republican power. In Washington they are an inconvenience at best. Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would much rather talk about inflation, block campaign finance reform, and more send money to foreign wars.

Republican leaders have long had an “adults are talking” attitude toward social conservatives, and the decay of social conservative power in Washington is starkly visible. 

When the House passed a bill enshrining gay marriage, for example, dozens of Republicans voted for it. While some truly believed marriage should be between whomever wants to get in line and pay a fee, the reality is most had simply not thought deeply on the issue. To many Republican members, marriage was less a 2,000-year-old bedrock of society, and more an issue from the ‘90s, settled by the Supreme Court or Barack Obama or someone else. They were shocked to find out many of their constituents still believe marriage is a sacred thing. 


Recent candidate-for-speaker Tom Emmer was one of the Republicans to vote for gay marriage. Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry found himself in the awkward position of having to lobby Republican senators against passing it, after he himself voted for it (and once he realized his colleagues and constituents were against it). The decay in understanding was directly attributable to the lack of sympathy in leadership. On Wednesday afternoon, that changed when Rep. Johnson won the vote.

A former lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, Johnson has been a clear voice for the sorts of issues voters care about, but his colleagues so often find icky. Christianity is central to his person. 

This shone through in his first remarks as speaker. Far from a Frank-Luntz-tested speech on the diversity of the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, his opening words spoke of the inspiration he gets from Moses and cited the famed Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton on the American creed. 

His words on the border dripped with emotion, citing the fentanyl deaths plaguing the American people. He spoke of prayer and scripture, and acknowledged the sacrifices his wife and especially children, have made. He spoke a language Christian families understand.

The speakership is a difficult job. Beset by weakness and empowered by a splintered caucus, it has very recently derailed the careers of far-more-experienced politicians than Johnson. 

Getting social conservatives’ much-needed policy goals across the finish line will prove difficult and maybe even impossible, but that doesn’t mean this step should be written off. While many issues social conservatives care about are popular with voters, candidates’ lack of training and discipline on messaging are abysmal (and a direct result of a Republican leadership more comfortable talking about dollar, cents, and licensing deregulation than the moral foundations of Western civilization).

This will not change overnight, especially since Republicans have good reason to fear these contentious issues: the press is coming for them. Yahoo! News’s Jon Ward, for example, had an article out within minutes of Johnson’s election, characterizing his former employers at ADF as having “a reputation for discriminating against sexual minorities.” Other outlets skipped Ward’s bizarre phrasing, but stuck with the pattern of accusing Johnson of the grievous modern sin of publicly proclaiming Biblical teachings on human sexuality. 


A Business Insider headline repeated left-wing propaganda by accusing Johnson of introducing “the national version of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.” The article takes 10 paragraphs to explain this “don’t say gay” law merely bans teachers from talking about sex to nine-year-olds, and stops tax dollars for paying for drag shows.

In dozens of other articles, Johnson has been described in the negative terms of either his opposition to gay marriage or abortion. Few if any describe these stances as his commitment to living the Christian religion he professes, or standing for life. 

Republicans have long known this is the treatment they’ll get from America’s overtly secular and left-wing corporate media, leading many (including, recently, even Trump) to run away from the issues. Years of intimidation have left very few men or women willing to stand on that wall.

This is a grievous error. If the past decade has taught America’s religious population anything, it’s that the slippery slope is very real. The FBI really is in your churches; the state actually will prosecute your worship; the lawyers truly are coming for your bakery. 

Far from “live and let live,” or “safe, legal and rare,” today’s cultural left demands submission to pronouns and “shouting your abortion.” Republicans like Johnson’s Senate counterpart can call for a ceasefire all they want, but those rarely work when your opponents are already in your trenches.

If Johnson survives the treacherous politics of the day and succeeds in the position, his promotion could mark a new chapter for Republican base. 

A socially conservative Republican speaker is a small step, but considering how few Americans realize we haven’t truly had one in decades, it is a major one.