Eric Cantor is out and “movement conservatism” is dying, writes Paul Krugman in his Friday column for the New York Times. Krugman defines movement conservatism as “an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda, meanwhile providing a support network for political and ideological loyalists,” and argues that conservative voters have gotten wise to the game. The lesson of Cantor’s ouster is that the political bait and switch — Republicans mobilizing their base with red meat social issues like LGBTQ rights and abortion but pivoting post-election to serving the interests of the 1 percent — no longer works. As Krugman points out, “Lip service to extremism isn’t enough; the base needs to believe that you really mean it.”
Cantor fell because his base didn’t believe that he really meant it:
I’ve never heard [Cantor] described as inspiring. His political rhetoric was nasty but low-energy, and often amazingly tone-deaf. You may recall, for example, that in 2012 he chose to celebrate Labor Day with a Twitter post honoring business owners. But he was evidently very good at playing the inside game.
It turns out, however, that this is no longer enough. We don’t know exactly why he lost his primary, but it seems clear that Republican base voters didn’t trust him to serve their priorities as opposed to those of corporate interests (and they were probably right). And the specific issue that loomed largest, immigration, also happens to be one on which the divergence between the base and the party elite is wide. It’s not just that the elite believes that it must find a way to reach Hispanics, whom the base loathes. There’s also an inherent conflict between the base’s nativism and the corporate desire for abundant, cheap labor.
And while Mr. Cantor won’t go hungry — he’ll surely find a comfortable niche on K Street — the humiliation of his fall is a warning that becoming a conservative apparatchik isn’t the safe career choice it once seemed.
The GOP is taking an extreme turn (or a more extreme turn than its regular interval of extreme turns), according to Krugman. Even so-called establishment Republicans who won their primaries had to up the extremity of their positions and rhetoric in order to do so. This trend will probably hurt Republicans come 2016, according to Krugman. The GOP is lurching ever rightward on social issues at a time when the nation seems to be embracing marriage equality among other issues. But in the meantime, hold on to your hats: We’re embarking on a moment when Congress is about to get more extreme — and less interested in participating in normal governance. Krugman warns, “An ugly political scene is about to get even uglier.”