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Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Yesterday, Eric Cantor, House Republican Majority Leader, lost his Republican primary against a Tea Party nobody named Brat.  Consequently, instead of ascending to the august position of Speaker of the House when John Boehner's expected resignation occurs next January, Cantor will be leaving the House.  This is very, very big political news here in the United States, and as a blogger I have an obligation to express an opinion about it, so here goes.

Let me begin by explaining a few things for my overseas readers, of whom there seem to be a fair number.  The position of Speaker of the House of Representatives is a constitutionally mandated office [Article I, Section II], elected by the full membership of the House.  Oddly, the Speaker need not be a Member of the House [just as the Pope and Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church need not be ordained priests.]  Under present law [not specified in the Constitution], the Speaker stands second in line behind the Vice President for ascension to the presidency in case of the death or incapacitation of the holder of that office.

The position of House Majority Leader is not constitutionally mandated, and only came into existence in 1899.  The House Majority Leader, as the title suggests, is chosen by the majority caucus.  The position is politically very important, inasmuch as the Majority Leader schedules bills for consideration by the House, oversees committee appointments, and in many other ways plays a major managerial role in the House.

Since no one in the commentariat had so much as heard of Brat before last night, opinion is a trifle unformed as yet about why this all happened, but one thing is clear:  Brat's entire campaign was focused on the issue of immigration reform.  Cantor was widely understood as believing that something ought to be done by the House Republicans in order not to totally write off the growing Hispanic vote.  Despite Cantor's last minute efforts to represent himself as opposed to any sort of compromise on the issue, voters were not fooled, and the rabidly anti-Hispanic Republican base gave Brat a resounding 11 point victory.

The implications of this upset for national politics are huge.  Let me sketch them.

First, immigration reform of any sort is totally dead for the next two years.  If the Majority Leader can lose a safe reelection over this issue, no Republican member of the House is going to be willing to touch the issue with a ten foot pole.  This in turn pretty much concedes the 2016 presidential race to the Democrats.

Second, the prospects of several important Republican presidential hopefuls just took a severe  turn for the worse.  Both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have made immigration moves -- subsequently withdrawn, to be sure -- in more or less overt efforts to position themselves as rational alternatives to the right-wing loonies who are currently sucking up all the oxygen in the pre-run up to the 2016 nomination frenzy.  With Chris Christie pretty much toast because of the scandals surrounding bridge closures and other things, that leaves those usually referred to as "grown-ups" or "sane persons" or "the Establishment' in the Republican Party with no obvious figure to back for the nomination.  Hence, the chances of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul just got a good deal better.

Should we go into the second half of 2015 with no plausible Republican Establishment counter to the crazies, that at least opens the door a trifle to an Elizabeth Warren challenge to the inevitability of the Clinton juggernaut.  Why?  Because if the Republicans do indeed nominate a crazy, then even someone as far to the left as Warren might have a good shot at winning a presidential race, especially since she, like Clinton, could be expected to run extremely well among women, while also holding Blacks, Hispanics, and young people [Obama's winning coalition.]  And if it actually looks as though Warren could win, then there is a very large segment of the Democratic base that would defect to her from Clinton, who is viewed as a sure winner but not much loved by liberals.

Several times in the past I have made predictions and offered to eat crow [or my hat] if I proved to be wrong.  Not this time.  This is rank speculation of the most ungrounded sort.  Take it for what it is worth.



Mitch said...

To be honest, I'm not sure it makes a challenge to Hillary more likely. Although many of the "grown ups" who have non-xenophobic views on immigration probably saw their chances go up in flames, their are other grown ups - or establishment perceived grown ups - who could step in to fill the void. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana to name two. And, while it does mean their will be no immigration deal before 2016, I'm not sure the Democrats will be likely to consider throwing away a "sure thing" in Hillary, providing she still looks like one in the summer of 2015. She won't go unchallenged - Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Bernie Sanders of Vermont may give it a go anyway - but I don't think anyone should think the challenge will be serious. It also probably guarantees that the VP nominee of the Democrats will be Hispanic, probably soon to be HUD Secretary Julian Castro. As importantly, I think it heralds the advent of the Tea Party Speaker. Unclear who it will be, but even money the next Speaker is a member of the Tea Party or very closely aligned. Expect overreach from the House in ways we haven't seen yet - impeachment? - and an emboldened hard Right in the Senate. But, despite the short run problems, it's possible this will be seen as the lighting of the fuse that blew up the Tea Party rebellion. Their policies are hugely unpopular with the broader populace, the sort of voters that show up in Presidential years, and that overreach could send them to the wilderness.

Magpie said...

It may all be speculation, but it sounds informed to me (but, alas, I am one of your overseas readers).

"Several times in the past I have made predictions and offered to eat crow"

Uh oh.

Matt said...

The thing that worries me about these developments is that, as a strategy or even a hope, "the worse, the better" often ends up leading to just getting the worse.

mesnenor said...

It should be noted that Cantor was always thought of as an extremist, and Tea Party favorite. He lost a primary to someone even further to the right after his district was re-gerrymandered to make it an even safer Republican seat. Perhaps some Republican incumbents will now realize that the "safer" their seat is for the party the less safe it is for the incumbent.

Seth said...

It was also an open primary. I wonder how many Democrats might have crossed lines to help take Cantor out. He had no high-profile Democratic opponent in the primary, so that might have seemed like a worthwhile gamble to some.

Seth said...

It was also an open primary. I wonder how many Democrats might have crossed lines to help take Cantor out. He had no high-profile Democratic opponent in the primary, so that might have seemed like a worthwhile gamble to some.