The political pundits say this should be a glorious time for the Republican Party. It sits solidly in control of the House and looks likely to reclaim control of the Senate in the upcoming November elections. The narrative goes that with a lame duck president, the GOP has a chance to control and direct the national agenda for the first time in six years.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are supposed to be vulnerable, as a result of the slowest recovery from recession in history, and the lowest percentage of the eligible workforce employed in decades. Then there’s the exploding national debt, a foreign policy that’s in shambles, and an electorate that is generally displeased with the executive performance of Barack Obama.
This is the primary season, a time when the GOP is expected to begin to build momentum toward the next election cycle. However, the defeat last week of Eric Cantor, House majority leader, in the Virginia primary, has sent shock waves through the establishment. Few foresaw it; in fact, Cantor is the first majority leader to lose a primary in more than 100 years.
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Business interests are wringing their hands over Cantor’s loss, while Tea Party enthusiasts are celebrating the renewal of their political clout within the party. The experts quickly predicted that Cantor’s loss is the end of immigration reform for this year, and concluded it’s a strong message to Republicans that no one is safe on the issue.
After conceding defeat, Cantor resigned his leadership duties, effective July 31. So, with the House anticipating new leadership, and a growing rift between the Tea Party and establishment Republicans, the focus has shifted from eager anticipation of a big November win, to debate on the direction of the party and whether it can unite enough to be a force in the coming elections.
I have to admit that I find the whole Washington, D.C., thing perplexing. This week, for instance, we heard that the 2015 budget appropriation for the latest farm bill might get vetoed. That’s the signal from the White House if, among other measures, an attachment that allows school districts to disregard new nutritional standards is included.
While some blame Cantor’s defeat on his immigration stance, I think that charges of crony capitalism and his support of big business were also factors in his primary loss. The irony is that Cantor was seen as too extreme and too conservative by many mainstream Americans. As a result, his policies, governance or positions tended toward moderation and the middle, so much so that he was branded within his party as not being conservative enough.
The bottom line is that honest debate and discussion seems to no longer be possible in this country – either within parties or between the parties. The Republican establishment and the Tea Party are at odds. The first is focused on broadening its popular appeal to gain the power to effect change, while the latter is interested in ideological purity. Of course, such purity might just ensure that they’ll be nothing more than the loyal opposition with no power to effect the change they seek.
Cantor’s defeat really sends only one message. That is that the Republican Party better get its house in order, or squander the magnificent opportunity that’s been handed them this election season.
The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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