Ornstein: Cantor’s Defeat and Brat’s Rise Means a More Extreme GOP
The political “earthquake” caused by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary defeat at the hands of Tea Party challenger Dave Brat has not yet settled down, but some already see evident damage: moderates will be weaker than ever and the Republican Party will become more extreme and even less (if that is possible) prone to compromise. Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, notes some impacts:
First, it is clear that this moves the Republican Party even further to the right, in approach, attitude and rhetoric. Even if the overwhelming majority of incumbents, including establishment ones, have won renomination, even if broader Republican public opinion is more establishment conservative than Tea Party radical, all it takes is an example or two of the opposite to get all politicians jumping at their shadows and muttering to themselves, “That could happen to me.”
He’s correct. In the last century, JFK wrote a Pulitizer Prize winning book “Profiles in Courage.” The 21st century version should be “Profiles in Cowardice.”
Fans of immigration reform have been saying that Cantor would now free to push a reform plan. Please. He’s not even staying as majority leader for the remainder of this Congress. There’s no way his colleagues are going to embrace any immigration reform that even hints at a path to legalization.
See my comment above.
Cantor had put out a policy plan for June that has a bunch of symbolic actions and a few real policy advances. Now, that plan will surely be curtailed further. Action means government doing things, and the zeitgeist of the GOP now is not to have government doing anything except self-destructing. Thank goodness there are no more votes this year on raising the debt ceiling or (God willing) shutting down the government.
American political parties always face a tension between their establishment and ideological wings. On the Republican side, going back more than a hundred years to the Teddy Roosevelt era, that was a struggle between moderate progressives and conservatives.
And here is where he nails it — so let’s put it in boldface:
Now it is different. There are no moderates or progressives in today’s GOP; the fight is between hard-line conservatives who believe in smaller government and radical nihilists who want to blow up the whole thing, who have as much disdain for Republican traditional conservatives as they do for liberals.
In our 2012 book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” Tom Mann and I described the Republican Party as an “insurgent outlier.” That is even more true today. The energy and driving force in the party, in its House membership, media dominance, caucus and primary electorates and financial backers, is not its conservative wing but its radical side.
They may not prevail over the long run. But they are celebrating today. The implications of Cantor’s defeat will not be lost on establishment conservatives — including those contemplating a presidential run.
And there’s another aspect to this. As I have noted over the years, the Republican Party has increasingly, in the end, done the bidding of polarizing conservative talk show hosts who do a good job as broadcasters of sawing off a demographic, whipping it up to tune in repeatedly, and delivering that demographic to advertisers. They almost always reject the idea that compromise can create consensus and a national unity on policies. Rather, they’re into power politics, celebrating and glorifying the notion that political discussion is like a sports competition and the political players and parties are sketched in professional wrestling all good guy/all bad guy roles.
Talk radio over the years has gained enormous power within the GOP because it serves as an effective town hall, but the hosts — who become best buds to their listeners — can influence their audience to act and serve as a bludgeon to those who dare reach out or cooperate with the other side or other ideology.
But it isn’t all cyncism: it’s isn’t fair to suggest the hosts don’t believe some or all of what they say. For instance, Brat is widely believed to owe his win to Laura Ingraham. Politico writes:
Dave Brat didn’t have much money, staff or name recognition — but he did have Laura Ingraham.
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s primary, the conservative talk radio host did more to raise Brat’s profile in his Virginia district than his own campaign could ever have done with its paltry budget and paid staff of two, political experts in the state and Washington said Wednesday. Through endorsements, mailings, media appearances and stump speeches, Ingraham, along with a couple of other media personalities on the right, helped turn Brat into a conservative sensation, enabling his stunning upset over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“I helped shine a light on a race where the establishment was vulnerable. I helped give Brat a platform that he was not getting through any other media outlet,”
Ingraham said in an interview.
“The national media wasn’t giving him his due and national tea party groups weren’t lifting a finger to help him. … I knew that if he had a little bit of a boost, he would make a really good run at this.”
It wasn’t quite social media, but it proved to be a way perhaps even more potent than social media of him getting his message out to an important select audience: the folks who could get out and vote.
Brat’s surprise victory is a powerful reminder, as if any were needed, of the immense influence talk radio has over conservative politics — it was not only Ingraham boosting Brat, but also Glenn Beck and Mark Levin bringing their considerable influence with the right to bear as well. Since well before the rise of the tea party, establishment Republicans have feared the medium’s command over the conservative base.
Cantor’s willingness to work with President Barack Obama on immigration reform was a move Ingraham staunchly opposed on her radio show and in appearances on Fox News and ABC’s “This Week.” Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, her public campaign went from anti-Cantor to pro-Brat. She praised him on her program, spoke at his events and even had her executive producer circulate his press releases to her own email list. On June 3, one week before the primary, Brat and Ingraham held a rally at Eric Cantor’s country club that drew more than 600 supporters, according to Ingraham.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said he believes Ingraham’s support was the deciding factor in Brat’s upset win.
“Something had to propel Brat forward other than dislike of Eric Cantor,” Sabato said. “She electrified the crowd when he had almost no money. He won the seat with peanuts, compared to Cantor’s millions. It was a clever substitution of free media for paid media.
“She wasn’t just a talk radio host who simply used her program to promote Brat. She took it to another level,” said Chuck Todd, the NBC News political director and senior White House correspondent. “I think she does deserve credit in giving credibility to Brat.”
Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh — in reality, they’re the real 21st century conservative Pied Pipers, the real bosses and strategists of the Republican Party.
And Republican establishment — and those who believe the country needs to see more bipartisan compromise and the nurturing of national consensus — beware.
Conservatives celebrate, but as of today’s there are signs the country’s center is, if not weaker, faced with a more difficult task as if faces a Republican Party that will increasingly dig in its right-veering heels.