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Jim Jordan and Donald Trump’s dumb week reminds us: MAGA “tough guys” are cowards at heart

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When Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, put in his bid to replace recently ousted Speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., one thing was certain: It would renew interest in the Ohio State University sex abuse scandal that has dogged Jordan for years. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated stepped up to the plate, recounting how at least 11 members of the school’s wrestling team reported abuse by the team doctor, Richard Strauss, to a coaching staff that included Jordan, who served as the assistant coach at the time. But, the athletes say, Jordan and other coaches ignored their pleas for help. 

Jordan denies it, but he’s a notoriously dishonest person and these former players have no reason to lie. In addition, a legal investigation and settlement have created a public record of the truth of the allegations. The details Wertheim got out of the victims reveal quite a bit about how much of a chicken Jordan is under all that bluster.

Dunyasha Yetts, an All-American wrestler in the ’90s, recalls complaining to Jordan that he saw Strauss about a thumb injury and stormed out of the room when the doctor attempted to pull down his shorts. Yetts recalls Jordan saying that if Strauss ever approached him in a sexual manner, he’d “kill him.” Dan Ritchie, another wrestler, says he was present when Jordan was informed of abuse from Strauss. Jordan’s response: “If he did that to me, I’d snap his neck like a twig of dried balsa wood.”

That’s Jim Jordan in a nutshell: A lot of talk about how tough he is, followed up by an unwillingness to show even the barest amount of real courage. Telling these players they should have killed Strauss is not about actually being a badass. It’s about shifting the blame to the victims so that Jordan can avoid taking action. 

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The stakes were much lower on Thursday, but the pattern held firm: Jordan’s focus was on creating an illusion of tenacity while being too much of a wimp to own up to his own failures. He talked up a big game about going forward to a third vote to be Speaker, having lost the first two. In reality, Jordan was negotiating a deal to cancel the vote and let Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., take on the role of “temporary” Speaker. (Though that looks like that option won’t be happening, either.) As Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan of Punchbowl News explain, “Jordan hates to lose. His entire brand is wrapped up in fighting liberals and being a winner.” He found a way to pull out of the race while pretending to stay in. 

That’s Jim Jordan in a nutshell: A lot of talk about how tough he is, followed up by an unwillingness to show even the barest amount of real courage.

Jordan faux-fearlessness is the norm among the MAGA male set, of course. It’s why he’s become such a celebrity in right-wing media and a power player in the GOP. He’s a perfect avatar of the toxic masculinity of the 21st-century Republican: Loud talking, followed by fleeing at the first sign of a real challenge. 

Donald Trump, of course, is the most prominent example. He uses social media near-daily to threaten his political and legal opponents while cringing from any real danger behind a phalanx of taxpayer-funded security.  But this week, he made a pathetic effort to bring his phony tough guy act out in person. He returned to court in Manhattan on Tuesday for the ongoing trial to determine how much he’ll be punished for decades of fraud. He’s been absent for a couple of weeks, once it became clear that his presence wasn’t garnering the press coverage he craved. His return appears to have been an attempt at witness intimidation. 

Real estate appraiser Doug Larson was testifying against Trump, laying out the various ways the Trump Organization manipulated numbers to make their assets look much more valuable — often exponentially so — than they actually were. On Tuesday, Trump sat in court glaring at Larson, no doubt hoping to scare the man into silence. When that didn’t work, Trump got even more disruptive on Wednesday, throwing his hands in the air and complaining loudly to his lawyers, until the judge was forced to tell him to shut up. He also tried to intimidate Attorney General Letitia James by sharing her home address on social media. 

Across all these attempts to be scary, however, Trump is mostly exposing his personal cowardice. Bellyaching at a witness from the safety of the defense table isn’t exactly taking any great personal risk. Sharing a woman’s home address in hopes someone else risks prison to go after her is quintessential cravenness. Trump likes to brag to cameras that he’s “willing to go to jail,” but of course, he’s not even willing to go to a Republican debate, on the off chance someone calls him out for all his crimes. 

Similarly, Jordan’s campaign to be Speaker was pure scare tactics. Republican holdouts — and their spouses — received a barrage of anonymous texts, emails from right-wing media figures, and other such messages commanding them to vote Jordan — or else witness the destruction of their political careers. Or worse, in the case of one Republican holdout who reported getting death threats

After it became obvious that the mobsters tactics were breeding rebellion and not compliance, Jordan belatedly tried to play good cop by tweeting, “We condemn all threats against our colleagues and it is imperative that we come together. Stop. It’s abhorrent.” But even though the House GOP caucus is famously flush with some dim bulbs, it’s doubtful anyone was buying this. Screaming at people until they submit is all Jordan knows how to do. But barking only works if people believe you’ll bite. Jordan was in an uphill battle on that front since his colleagues actually knew the quisling heart of the man behind the performative bad haircut and rolled up sleeves. 

The emptiness behind the manly-man posturing of MAGA Republicans was hilariously illustrated on Wednesday when Trump failed to pretend that he was too busy fighting in court to handle the tedious candidate duties of kissing babies and eating corn dogs. Talking to reporters outside the courtroom, Trump complained, “They want to keep me here instead of campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, lots of other great places.” Even by his low standards of chest-thumping, this lie was weak sauce. Not only did Trump sound more whiny than resolute, it was also a transparent lie that he “had” to be at a court proceeding he’s been skipping out on for two weeks. 

But then the fragile ruse completely fell apart when a reporter asked Trump if he’d be in court again Thursday. “Probably not. We’re having a very big professional golf tournament at Doral,” Trump responded. Mr. “I’ll Go To Prison,” it turns out, doesn’t even have the stamina to skip golf to meet voters. Unsurprisingly, Joe Biden’s campaign had fun with this on Twitter. 

To make it even more fun, they posted it on Truth Social. I suspect the goal of this trolling is to get Trump, in a fit of Elon Musk-esque pique, to have the Biden account banned. At which point, Biden’s campaign can once again remind everyone Trump’s got paper-thin skin under all that orange makeup. There’s a long road ahead in exposing the MAGA movement’s emptiness for what it is, but this especially dumb week was a promising step in the right direction. 

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