What does Eric Cantor’s primary loss mean for the Republican party?

Last night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his Virginia primary to a pretty much unknown Teabagger, economist David Brat. Cantor, as House Majority Leader, is the first to lose his re-election position in over 100 years.

During the primary, Brat was underfunded, definitely not a celebrity, and even more radical than Cantor. That makes this a perfect example of the civil war between the establishment Republicans and the Teapublicans. Although it’s delicious to watch the GOP tear itself apart like this, the Tea Party side seems to be reviving, which is bad news for pretty much everybody. The more power the Tea Party have in Congress, the more dangerous Congress becomes.

I had been under the impression that the Tea Party was dying – a sort of right-wing populist flash in the pan that burned too brightly for too long, the way some stars only survive for a short amount of time because they burn up their fuel too quickly. Sadly the Teapublicans are making a bit of a comeback in time for the midterms in November, and it doesn’t seem to be hurting the Republican ethos overall. One would think that a civil war between the populists and the establishment (which seems to be based almost entirely on the question of whether Wall St. is friend or foe) would hurt the party as a whole, but they’re still drawing massive support. Granted, they’ve lost two Presidential elections, but the Tea Party’s strength has always been its ability to work at a local level, infiltrating school boards and local government bodies. Yes, they’ve made headway in the midterms before, but the fact that they’ve just upset one of the safest positions in Congress means their fight is not over. Of course, the establishment Republicans continue to pull their own support from the Koch brothers and from the gullible religious, but the Tea Party seems to be taking an increasing amount of the GOP’s base.

This is not only bad news for the American people (until a sensible right-wing arises, if such thing exists, the American people are in trouble) but for the entire democratic process. The Tea Party have shown an unashamed hostility to most common sense policies such as foreign diplomacy, The Affordable Care Act, positive immigration reform, gun control, equal rights for LGBT people and people of colour, and their fiscal positions are either absent or completely absurd. David Brat has aligned himself with the Teapublicans and therefore aligned himself to most if not all of these policies. He’s a “free market kinda guy” but has little love for Wall St, which kind of makes him the perfect Tea Party candidate.

The point is, when a radical sect of a right-wing party makes waves, the established candidates usually try to present themselves as more right-wing to keep up with the voting sentiment. It’s pretty much the only time that establishment Republicans listen to their constituents – when their constituents turn their gaze elsewhere. It’s called a shifting effect and it’s true no matter what country’s right-wing party you talk about (just think about the UK conservatives and UKIP – conservatives are desperate to pull back UKIP voters into the Tory sphere by offering Eurosceptic goodies). Republicans right now are constantly battling each other to be “conservative enough” and when that happens, the American people are hurt. They’re hurt by policies that are conservative for the sake of being conservative, they’re hurt by Republicans making decisions based on how many votes can be snatched away from the Tea Party. Policies should be based on what works, but the Republicans have never much cared about that. For all their faults, the Democrats don’t have that problem on such a massive scale because they’re not struggling with a civil war. No Democrats ever need to ‘out-liberal’ each other.

Whether this is the first step towards the Republican leadership being ousted and replaced with even more stubborn old white men, or whether this is just a coincidence, remains to be seen. But what we can clearly see is that the Republican party will shove itself further and further to the extreme, regardless of whether it ends up eating itself. That’s bad news.

 

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