If midterm election years have a reputation for being tepid and boring, a typically alienating cycle where the opposition party stokes its base with a referendum on the sitting President, 2014 is bucking the script.
By now we’ve all had time to digest the “shocking,” “stunning,” “earthquake” (all terms culled from actual media coverage) that is lame duck House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s ejection from his post by the likes of Tea Party upstart Dave Brat. Brat, an economics professor at Virginia’s Randolph-Macon College, is doing his level best to upend quite a few paradigms. After unseating Cantor while leveraging an infinitesimal campaign budget (you’ve heard the statistic: Brat spent $200,000 – slightly more than what Cantor’s campaign dropped on steak dinners), the most cynical of us are taking another look at the assumption that mass money buys outcomes without exception.
At the same time, Brat demonstrates that earning a PhD in a scientific discipline is no guarantee that data will have bearing on political policy development. Brat won over his conservative district with a staunch anti-immigration position that flies against the express desires of three major constituent groups: economists, business leaders and religious organizations.
But in between Cantor’s surprise overthrow and the tragic and scary events unfolding in a foundering Iraq, another story of GOP cognitive dissonance was somewhat lost in the shuffle. I am speaking of last weekend’s GOP convention in Moscow, Idaho, managed by wannabe House Majority Leader Raul Labrador. I am not sure I could provide a synopsis of the disaster more succinct and factual than writer Betsy Z. Russell of The Spokesman-Review:
“Idaho’s state Republican Party convention degenerated into a fiasco Saturday after attempts to disqualify up to a third of the delegates attending appeared to be succeeding – and the convention ended up adjourning without electing a chairman, setting a platform or doing any of it scheduled business…Far from uniting the deeply divided party, the gathering in Moscow degenerated into dysfunction – though it’s the party that holds every statewide office in Idaho, every seat in the congressional delegation and more than 80 percent of the seats in the state Legislature. It also proved not to be the finest hour for Labrador, whom many looked to as the healer for the fractured party just a day after he announced that he’s running for Majority Leader of the U.S. House; instead, he ended the convention facing jeers and walkouts from his own party members.”
I must own that I gasped audibly at several points while reading the text. June 2014 is the month of conservative schadenfreude that keeps on giving. But once the gleeful laughter recedes, an obvious question presents itself. Why does the party continue warring with itself during the primary season in the absence of any logical reason to do so?
The fallout from the silliness appears to be forcing a premature end to Labrador’s national ambitions before they have an opportunity to gain traction. Boise State University professor emeritus Jim Weatherby, a longtime observer of Idaho politics, noted, “It’s hard to blame all this on Raul Labrador, but on the other hand, this does not strengthen his credentials for a national leadership position, either.”
These increasingly common and bizarre instances of Republican infighting have clearly been a longtime coming. “Mainstream” conservatives asked for this after President Obama’s first election, when they welcomed new radical and reactionary elements to the fold that predicted long-term implosion. And anyone who paid attention to the fall 2013 government shutdown will recall that heated rhetoric was just as often Republican on Republican as it was liberal versus conservative.
The larger lesson may be that the best Democratic strategy for the 2014 midterms is no strategy at all. Sit back, take it easy. Put up your local candidates and support them, but why bother exerting yourself or spending a ton of money to go negative? Conserve your resources and watch your enemies eat other.