In the midst of the worst of the Great Recession, before Barack Obama was even sworn in, Eric Cantor was the leader of the movement to do nothing to help the new president fix the disasters he inherited.
During the debt limit crisis of 2011, the author of The New New Deal Mike Grunwald points out, Cantor’s job was to “babysit” John Boehner to keep the Speaker from striking a deal as the world’s markets tumbled.
But that wasn’t extreme enough for this Republican Party.
On Tuesday, Cantor was defeated by Dave Brat, an economics professor who idolizes Ayn Rand. On Wednesday, he revealed that he isn’t sure if there should be any minimum wage. But one thing he’s perfectly clear on is that he will never vote to raise the debt limit.
Brat also attacked the Majority Leader for supporting immigration reform, which Cantor didn’t, and attacked him as a tool of Wall Street. While he was fully invested in economic sabotage, it’s true that Cantor’s double dealing often veered far from true conservatism.
As unnerving it is to see a fellow Jew and the only Jewish Republican in Congress attacked for his ties to “bankers,” Democrats should be reminded that Cantor primarily lost because he’s an unlikable guy who ran a terrible campaign. Still, this loss does show that the GOP base is not done demanding that its leaders do anything possible to destroy Obama’s presidency.
Most alarmingly, Cantor’s loss could have huge ramifications in the near future.
Immigration reform, the heart transplant the GOP needs to reach out to the fastest growing group of voters in America, is still unlikely. It wasn’t likely to pass before and probably still won’t. House Republicans aren’t likely to pass any legislation — except VA reform — that the president wants.
But next March, Congress will have to raise the debt limit again.
Even though the deficit has fallen faster under Obama than at any time in at least 60 years, Republicans will likely use this moment to make more demands knowing that the president has vowed never to negotiate over the credit of the United States again.
This February the House voted to extend the debt limit for just over a year to move the issue out of an election year — but only 28 Republicans voted for the bill. One of them was Eric Cantor.
In 2015, no election looms. Ted Cruz — who is celebrating Cantor’s defeat — will argue that any gains the party made will be because it dared to shut down the government, even though the actual shutdown led the party to the worst poll numbers in history.
Which Republicans will feel safe voting for a clean increase knowing it could cost them their job?
Is the specter of a financial crisis worse than the one Bush left us enough to make the party rational enough to listen to its big funders? Wouldn’t a crisis like that help elect not just a Republican but an extremist like Cruz?
The Republican base seems willing to find out. And when a party is willing to take down its own leaders to make an a barely intelligable point, you have to believe they’re capable of anything. This is something voters need to be reminded of when they get their next chance to stop them in November.
[Photo by Chris Savage | Eclectablog]