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Could Donald Trump really be the next House speaker?

As House speaker, Donald Trump could sit behind President Biden during the State of the Union.LEAH MILLIS/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Imagine the angst and anger among Democrats if Republicans take control of the House after next year’s midterm elections and Nancy Pelosi has to hand over the speaker’s gavel to the other party.

Now imagine she’s handing it to Donald Trump.

In what could be the ultimate trolling of Democrats, some prominent Trump allies are suggesting House Republicans should elect him speaker if they hold the majority, a move that would place him second to the vice president in the line of succession for the presidency and allow him to preside over a chamber that an angry mob of supporters tried to forcibly enter during the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection. Trump has fueled the speaker idea by suggesting he’s interested.

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As bizarre as it seems, it’s not impossible.

Although every previous speaker has been an elected House member, the Constitution does not require it and scholars agree there is nothing legally preventing Republicans from electing Trump to the job. Analysts think it’s unlikely to happen and some have cautioned against giving the notion too much attention, but the past few years have shown that even the most outrageous scenarios — like a president refusing to concede an election he clearly lost — can’t entirely be dismissed.

“It’s hard to imagine a more self-destructive thing for the House of Representatives to do than to elect a twice-impeached, deeply unprincipled, psychologically unstable, emotionally immature, and manifestly corrupt private citizen like former president Trump to the position of speaker of the House,” Laurence H. Tribe, an emeritus Harvard Law professor and constitutional scholar, said in an e-mail. “But the Constitution doesn’t rule out novel actions just because they’re self-destructive, unprecedented, and obviously stupid.”

The possibility, however, is concerning enough that Representative Brendan Boyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, introduced legislation last summer, yet to receive a vote, that would require the speaker be an elected House member. And some Republicans are worried the issue could be used to boost Democratic candidates next year. One group, the Renew America Movement, a coalition of Republicans and independents opposed to political extremism, recently used the specter of Trump as speaker to urge the reelection of moderate Democrats in swing districts.

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Analysts downplayed the likelihood by saying Trump wouldn’t find the complex, legislative-focused job appealing and enough House Republicans would balk at placing the fate of their newfound majority in his hands. But the continued speculation highlights the discontent among Trump’s most ardent supporters with minority leader Kevin McCarthy, the top contender to be speaker under a Republican majority, and foreshadows a contentious battle for the position — with or without Trump — that could paralyze the House in the early days of GOP control.

“It obviously shows what deep trouble Kevin McCarthy is in with his own caucus,” said Norm Ornstein, a longtime congressional scholar who is an emeritus senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank.

He believes McCarthy will face a challenge for speaker regardless of whether Trump wants the job. But given the choice between a divisive intraparty fight for speaker and coalescing around Trump, Ornstein said he could see Republicans opting for the latter.

“Yeah, it could happen,” Ornstein said. “Trump is not going to look at this and say, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to do the work.’ He’s going to look at this as, ‘I’ve got a whole new venue for promoting my brand and my message.’ “

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That’s probably not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution. But, for whatever reason, they left the qualifications for the position of speaker unstated. Article 1, section 2 simply reads, “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers.”

“You can call this sort of untested territory,” said Matthew Green, chair of the Department of Politics at the Catholic University of America in Washington and an expert on the speakership.

Some of Trump’s biggest fans are eager to test it.

Asked at a Capitol Hill news conference this month if he wanted Trump to be speaker, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, said, “I would.” He said he had talked to Trump about it but that the conversation was private.

Earlier this year, Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, endorsed the idea. Trump himself seemed intrigued in June when conservative commentator Wayne Allyn Root suggested he run for the House as a way to become speaker and then lead the impeachment of President Biden.

“People have said run for the Senate . . . but you know what, your idea might be better,” Trump said on Root’s radio show. “It’s very interesting.” A Trump spokeswoman told NPR in October that Trump was not thinking about the job, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation.

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In recent years, there have been some isolated protest votes for speaker that were cast for people who were not House members. They included former secretary of state Colin Powell, who received a single vote in elections in 2013 and 2015, as well as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Biden, who each got a vote in 2019, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

“On occasion, this idea gets floated, but never really taken seriously,” said Ronald Peters, the founder of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma, named after the former Democratic House speaker. Peters recalled one instance in 1973 when the vice presidency was vacant after the resignation of Spiro Agnew. In the midst of the Watergate scandal, some liberal House members proposed to Albert that he resign as speaker so the House could elect Democratic Senator Hubert Humphrey into the position. Then they would impeach Nixon and Humphrey would ascend to the presidency.

Albert rejected the plan and proposed that Republican Gerald Ford be vice president, said Peters, an emeritus political science professor at the University of Oklahoma.

John Feehery, a Republican strategist and former aide to House speaker Dennis Hastert, warned that the speculation about Trump becoming speaker could hurt Republicans in next fall’s elections.

“My view is any time we’re talking about Trump, it’s probably helpful for the Democrats, any time we’re talking about Biden, it’s helpful for Republicans,” Feehery said.

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He also knows firsthand how difficult the speaker’s job is and said Trump wouldn’t be good at it.

“Ultimately, a speaker is only successful if he’s able to get stuff passed into law and that requires compromise. There’s no way he’s going to want to compromise with Joe Biden. He doesn’t even think Biden’s legitimate,” Feehery said. “It’s a hard enough job if you’re not Trump. It’s impossible if you are Trump.”

Trump could try to offload many of the speaker’s duties. When House Republicans courted Paul Ryan to serve as speaker in 2015, one of his conditions was delegating some of the fund-raising and travel responsibilities so he could spend more time with his wife and young children. And Trump could simply take the job for a short time — long enough to have Pelosi hand him the speaker’s gavel and to sit behind Biden during the State of the Union address.

Then Trump could mockingly clap for Biden, as Pelosi did during Trump’s 2019 address. Or worse.

“Imagine that President Biden is giving the State of the Union address and Donald Trump is sitting behind him and interrupts him repeatedly,” Ornstein said. “There’s nothing that’s too far-fetched in the world we live in.”



Jim Puzzanghera can be reached at jim.puzzanghera@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera.