Johnson backpedals on divisive Senate endorsement after GOP blowback

A Republican Party civil war nearly broke out over the Montana Senate race before House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., decided to step back from the GOP primary there, Fox News Digital has learned.

Three sources told Fox News Digital that Johnson planned to endorse Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., for Senate but reversed course after blowback from fellow Republicans.

‘Johnson planned to endorse Rosendale, but after receiving extreme blowback from Trump allies on the Hill, he decided to withdraw and not do it,’ the source said. ‘He told at least one senator, at least one congressman…that he was no longer planning to endorse after the blowback.’

A second source indicated that those two lawmakers were Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. 

Zinke told Fox News Digital, ‘I can confirm that upon further reflection, the speaker is not endorsing Rosendale for Senate. I am confident that his decision was based on the reality that Rosendale is the weaker candidate by far against [Democratic Sen. Jon Tester].’

Daines chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Senate GOP’s campaign arm tasked with retaking the majority in the November elections. That includes a pickup opportunity that Republicans see in unseating Daines’ fellow Montanan, Tester.

Both he and Zinke have backed former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, who has also been endorsed by Montana’s governor and other top GOP officials. 

Rosendale, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, has not entered the race but is expected to do so.

The second source said Zinke and Daines were ‘p—ed’ about Johnson’s intention to endorse Rosendale, which was first reported by Punchbowl. That source also said it was Rosendale who reached out to the speaker to ask for his backing.

A third source, who is familiar with Zinke’s thinking, told Fox News Digital, ‘The speaker called Zinke last night. It was a good conversation. Zinke supports the speaker’s decision to not get involved.’

The endorsement would have been an unusual step for Johnson, who has publicly tried to downplay the appearance of intraparty division since taking the speaker’s gavel in October.

Johnson’s campaign told Fox News Digital, ‘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. He is singularly focused on growing the House majority.’

Rosendale touted the about-face as establishment fear of him running.

‘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!’

Montana is seen as critical to the GOP’s chances of retaking the Senate next year. Tester, who has been in office since 2007, has survived several close races in an increasingly red state. That includes a challenge from Rosendale in 2018.

Former President Trump won the state by roughly 16% over President Biden in 2020. He has not endorsed anyone in the Montana Senate race.

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