I haven’t been writing about the Republicans much lately because I don’t like repeating myself and there hasn’t been all that much to say that I hadn’t already said. Still, I can’t let pass without some comment the stunning news of the primary election defeat of the #2 Republican in the House.
If you’ve been reading this blog since last October, you know my basic contention that today’s Republican Party is far outside the American political tradition in its radical reactionary ideology and tactics. In a figurative sense, much of the party—I mean public officeholders as well as active party identifiers–is crazy, i.e., significantly detached from political reality and utterly resistant to facts and logic inconsistent with their worldview. And most of the non-crazy Republicans in public office feel they need to at least talk and act crazy, lest they face a primary challenge from the right. Eric Cantor’s primary defeat is just one more piece of evidence of Republican craziness.
No one can reasonably accuse Eric Cantor of not being “conservative” enough. (For the justification for my use of quotation marks around “conservative,” see my post of 10/10/13.) A stalwart reactionary, Cantor was the main guy who John Boehner had to worry about leading a revolt from the right against his leadership. The same guy who cris-crossed the country promoting the election of Tea Party Republicans to Congress. But poor Cantor hasn’t been acting crazy enough of late, and his inclination to show some flexibility on immigration reform may have been the sign of sanity that broke the proverbial elephant’s back: it was just too much for the Republican voters of Virginia’s s 7th district. Unlike his colleague Sen. Lindsay Graham, who has also been suspiciously soft on immigration, Cantor hasn’t been obsessively attacking President Obama lately; he hasn’t even suggested the possible need for impeachment proceedings. (Note: Kevin Drum of Mother Jones points to some poll data that indicates the immigration issue may not have been decisive; it may have simply been insufficient general craziness. )
Cantor’s downfall should help squelch the continuing narrative, popular in much of the media, of a struggle between relatively moderate “establishment” Republicans and Tea Party types. I’ve repeatedly challenged that narrative (see, e.g., my post of 10/21), as has Kevin Drum, who notes that “…the Republican Party as a whole has adopted the tea party line lock, stock, and extremely smoking barrel. It’s been as total a victory as you’re ever likely to see in the real world. “ The Tea Party is no less established in the Republican power structure than its critics.
Cantor’s political passing won’t make the House of Representatives a better place. It will strengthen the most extreme radicals in his party. Still, progressives will inevitably take some pleasure in the removal of this really creepy guy from public office. As Ed Kilgore observes, Cantor, the only Jewish Republican member of Congress, has played a central role in validating conservative criticisms of Democrats as unfriendly to Israel. MJ Rosenberg gloats about Cantor’s downfall from his own perspective as a progressive Jewish critic of Israel. (The following is from Rosenberg’s e-newsletter; there’s no web site to link to.):
The Jewish angle particularly delights me, and I’m not alone. For many Jews, just having a Jewish Republican in Congress these days is an embarrassment (a shonda). Even one Jewish right-winger in Congress (let alone one as visible as Cantor) detracts from our proud record as the second most Democratic and progressive voting bloc in the United States. (African-Americans are first).
Rosenberg identifies Cantor as the principal Republican water carrier for AIPAC and Bibi Netanyahu, and suggests that Cantor’s departure will make it at least somewhat harder for the AIPAC forces to scuttle a possible nuclear deal with Iran, whose prospects are currently looking up. Rosenberg sums it up with just a bit of hyperbole: “Eric is gone. One small step for America, one giant leap for Jews.”