The defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor exposes far greater problems in the Republican establishment. The establishment has a wisdom about politics that really lacks practical understanding of how the political process works which leaves unable to take blame for defeat or understand what was behind its victory.
We saw this with the now spurious “the tea party is dead” meme that many conveyed based on victories by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in their primaries and the inability of many other tea party candidates to defeat incumbents. The concocted notion seemed to be that voters were casting a ballot on, “Tea Party v. Establishment” and the establishment was winning. The establishment was guilty of forgetting Tip O’Neill’s famous axiom, “All politics is local.” The strength of grassroots organizations, the strength of challengers, and the personal organization of incumbents are all variables in each and every race. There has never been wave elections for the Tea Party or against it.
Generally, the vast majority of incumbents will win renomination. However, the Republican establishment over the past few years has tended to look at being renominated as a mandate to do whatever they want. A leader like Cantor assumed renomination would be a cakewalk because he didn’t bother to actually to listen to the voters in his district. Many voters make decisions with thoughts that they’re voting for “the lesser of two evils,” or “better the devil you know” or that the other candidate simply isn’t qualified. The Republican establishment never bothers to listen to what voters actually think so they assume that renomination is some sort of seal of approval until they get mugged by reality as Cantor was.
In addition, by their own reckoning, the GOP leadership never makes a mistake. We’ve spent the last few years hearing constant whining about tea party candidates who defeated establishment favorites only to be defeated in the Fall. What we never heard about is how these candidates of the party establishment failed to convince, satisfy, or excite enough voters to actually win the nomination against candidates who the establishment declares to be weak, deficient, and unelectable.
The grassroots have been in a state of revolt for three election cycles. When intelligent political leaders have lost political favor, they apprise the situation and make adjustments as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 elections. Leaders of the Republican Party such as Mitch McConnell and John Boehner needed to figure out how to unite the party. Instead, the grassroots has been in a bitter political feud with the Party establishment for three straight cycles and there’s no sign of it ending.
The response from the Establishment has been to try to “crack down” and issue reprisals to try and keep people in line, and to pretend that the only people who vote against the Establishment in primaries are ignorant troglodytes who need to learn to back the winners in elections.
While there are some unreasonable and extreme people who have shown up at Tea Party rallies, there are also millions of grassroots people who vote for “Tea Party candidates” with legitimate concerns that the party establishment chooses to ignore.
On the issue of immigration, the party establishment will defend amnesty as necessary and promise that we’ll have border enforcement. They’ll even point out how this is the right thing to do because Ronald Reagan issued an amnesty. However, we were supposed to see enhanced immigration enforcement back then too. That you fooled us once isn’t an argument for letting you fool us twice.
Voters have no reason to believe the government will follow through on the border enforcement of any “comprehensive” immigration bills particularly when America has a President in office who has disregarded the law when inconvenient in Obamacare, the Bergdahl debacle, etc.
However, there’s a reason that polls show support for general immigration reform but each specific comprehensive proposal goes down in flames: no one has any credibility on the issue. No one can be trusted to actually ensure that the borders are protected and the laws are enforced. If you want to have other immigration issues addressed: secure the borders and ensure that lives and economic health aren’t being endangered by the uncontrolled flow of undocumented people. And controlling the borders isn’t a bargaining chip to be used in political negotiations, it’s a responsibility of government to be fulfilled and until that’s met, there’s no use talking about the rest.
Another issue is spending where the GOP will talk a conservative game but will fail to address the long term fiscal issues the country faces. That’s the problem with things like the House GOP budget which aims to cut spending later while in the short term increasing spending. House Republicans looks optimistically to future congresses to show the fiscal discipline they lack. The best House Republicans can offer for fiscal restraint is a version of Wimpy from Popeye’s famous, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
The Congressional leadership of the Republican Party is hopelessly out of touch and the only hope conservatives have of getting anything good out of them is to elect a President in 2016 who will show the leadership that McConnell, Boehner, and their lieutenants lack.