Krugman on the Surprising and Disturbing Lessons from Eric Cantor's Shocking Defeat


In his Friday column, Paul Krugman searches for the meaning behind House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's shocking primary defeat to someone to the right of him this week. Krugman foresees the coming death of one kind of conservativism—or "movement conservatism"—and its replacement with something even darker.

"Movement conservatism" has dominated American politics since Reagan's election, and Krugman defines it 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." 

In other words, Republicans have been performing a kind of "electoral bait and switch" and the base has finally gotten wise to it. The jig is up. Here's an example Krugman gives of the ole bait and switch:

George W. Bush won re-election by posing as a champion of national security and traditional values — as I like to say, he ran as America’s defender against gay married terrorists — then turned immediately to his real priority: privatizing Social Security. It was the perfect illustration of the strategy famously described in Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” in which Republicans would mobilize voters with social issues, but invariably turn postelection to serving the interests of corporations and the 1 percent.

In return for this service, businesses and the wealthy provided both lavish financial support for right-minded (in both senses) politicians and a safety net — “wing-nut welfare” — for loyalists. In particular, there were always comfortable berths waiting for those who left office, voluntarily or otherwise. There were lobbying jobs; there were commentator spots at Fox News and elsewhere (two former Bush speechwriters are now Washington Post columnists); there were “research” positions (after losing his Senate seat, Rick Santorum became director of the “America’s Enemies” program at a think tank supported by the Koch brothers, among others).

It was a pretty good deal while it lasted, and a "low-risk professional path," for uninspired, tone-deaf pols like Cantor. But, Krugman says, "the humiliation of his fall is a warning that becoming a conservative apparatchik isn’t the safe career choice it once seemed." (No need to worry too much about Cantor, he'll find employment on K Street, Krugman assures.)

But never mind Cantor; he's dust. What does it all mean? Well, you can forget the storyline about the Tea Party being beaten back, and the return of good, old-fashioned conservatism.  In today's GOP, it turns out that lip service to extremism isn't enough. You have to walk the walk.

Krugman's prognosis:

In the long run — which probably begins in 2016 — this will be bad news for the G.O.P., because the party is moving right on social issues at a time when the country at large is moving left. (Think about how quickly the ground has shifted on gay marriage.) Meanwhile, however, what we’re looking at is a party that will be even more extreme, even less interested in participating in normal governance, than it has been since 2008. An ugly political scene is about to get even uglier.

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