Introducing the Tea Party’s Horrifying Cousin: Constitutional Conservatism
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The emerging conventional wisdom that the Tea Party is being vanquished by the GOP establishment, based solely on the fact it is beating primary challengers, is exceedingly myopic. If you believe that, you have a very superficial view of what constitutes “winning.” These primaries are forcing the allegedly mainstream candidates to move far to the right and the performance of the past few years proves that when this happens the Party stays far right as a result of this threat. Primaries can be very effective tools if used properly, and if they are backed up by money and influence, which the far right certainly is, they are formidable instruments of discipline.
Ed Kilgore did an excellent survey of these so-called victories for the voices of reason at Talking Points Memo earlier this week:
Yesterday’s winner Pat Roberts, who already sported lifetime ratings of 86 percent from both the American Conservative Union and Americans for Prosperity, went far out of his way to propitiate the ideological gods of movement conservatism as he fought for reelection. He voted against an appropriations measure that included a project he had long sought for his alma mater, Kansas State University, and opposed a UN Treaty banning discrimination against people with disabilities over the objections of his revered Kansas Senate predecessors Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum.
We’ve seen the same dynamic with “establishment” winners Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, and “moderate outsider” David Perdue of Georgia — and above all Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whose voting record tilted hard right in anticipation of his primary fight with Matt Bevin. There’s been a virtual cavalcade in the primaries of entire fields tilting against debt limit increases, comprehensive immigration reform (or even limited legalization of undocumented workers), any positive government role in economic policy, and of course, any accommodations for legalized abortion or same-sex marriage.
As Kilgore has pointed out endlessly on his blog at Washington Monthly, there really is very little daylight between them in the first place. As he archly observed back in November 2012, as the entire political establishment was once again declaring that the battle for the soul of the Republican Party was raging out of control in the wake of Mitt Romney’s embarrassing loss:
Yes, years from now conservatives will sit around campfires and sing songs about the legendary internecine battles of late 2012, when father fought son and brother fought brother across a chasm of controversy as to whether 98% or 99% of abortions should be banned; whether undocumented workers should be branded and utilized as “guest workers,” loaded onto cattle cars and shipped home, or simply immiserated; whether the New Deal/Great Society programs should be abolished in order to cut upper-income taxes or abolished in order to boost Pentagon spending. There’s also a vicious, take-no-prisons fight over how quickly to return the role of the federal government in the economy to its pre-1930s role as handmaiden to industry. Blood will flow in the streets as Republicans battle over how to deal with health care after Obamacare is repealed and 50 million or people lose health insurance. Tax credits and risk pools or just “personal responsibility?”
The fight within the GOP, to the extent there really is one, is over strategy and tactics, not goals. As much as it pleases some Village wags to think there still exists a moderate GOP that wants nothing more than to knock back scotch and sodas at the end of a long day of bipartisan horse trading just like Tip and Ronnie supposedly used to do, it doesn’t. And while it also pleases some liberals to think that there exists a genuine populist impulse on the right wing that can make common cause with Democrats, I’m afraid they too are whistling past the graveyard.