Sunday, 15 June 2014

Good Read: Brian Beutler on Cantor Loss Legacy (TNR)

I’ve only recently started reading Brian Beutler’s work for The New Republic (that I’m aware of, anyway).

I think he has a very good, fluid style. This, naturally means I’m more likely to read his work even if I disagree with his analysis. I do think there is great value in good style as well as good content, and it is always nice to discover a new voice.

CantorEricI just finished reading his his June 13th piece, “The Legacy of Cantor’s Defeat Is Shaping Up to Be Incredibly Small”. While the article started a little strangely, with a real-world anecdote that is ultimately meaningless in its banality (some journalistic tricks and tics will forever irk me), I thought I’d share a pair of good paragraphs:

Cantor’s defeat probably didn’t imperil or kill any major bills. It may have sent them downriver in body bags, but they weren’t going to pass anyhow. That probably includes immigration reform – the one issue that supposedly (though not actually) did Cantor in. But the great irony in all this is that McCarthy hails from a California district with a large immigrant population and is much more favorably disposed toward comprehensive reform than Cantor was.

Looking way ahead to September, I suppose it’s possible that a cabal of disenchanted hardliners will decide to make something of all this by trying to shut down the government again. But unless it was part of an elaborate conspiracy to sacrifice GOP seats as a pretext for ousting John Boehner, it’d be an incredibly weird, delayed primal scream, and suggestive of a strange unfamiliarity with how Cantor’s exit changes the balance of power in Congress.

The piece is also a nice alternative to those by still-hyperventilating journalists and commentators who appear to think the sky may have fallen. As he writes at the end, this furore surrounding this story was a “firestorm of our own creation”. He comes to this conclusion logically, too, after laying out the arguments for why this “unexpected defrocking of a Majority Leader” will ultimately be rather anticlimactic:

The office [of Majority Leader] is vested with the kind of procedural power that’s theoretically vast, but largely invisible to anyone not paying close attention. In a well-functioning majority, it’s also largely pro forma. What made the Cantor surprise such a juicy insider story is that the current majority is so fractious that the vacancy carried with it the potential to reignite a Republican civil war. We might still get a small one. But when the dust settles, we’ll be left with a leadership team with very little of consequence left to do and thus few decision points at which the presence of an outsider might muck things up.

McCarthyKevinNewI confess, lately I have been rather out-of-touch of the politicking of Congress and, particularly, the Republican leadership. Therefore, I cannot really offer informed comment on how Cantor’s loss, or his now-apparently-assumed replacement by current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will really change the way the House of Representative operates under Republican control. Beutler’s article offers a reasonable analysis that I’m inclined to agree with.

When I shared a media round-up from the Wednesday after Cantor’s loss, I pointed to an article by Justin Landon, an experienced former Congressional staffer. He posited that Cantor’s unexpected defeat could lead to the nuttier voices in Congress (new and old) gaining traction and prominence. Here’s what he said:

Corralling a Republican caucus that has turned over half its members in the last two elections has been no easy task. With demands for absolutist positions and conservative martyrdom, Boehner has only survived thus far thanks to luck and Eric Cantor’s connection to the Congressional leaders of the Tea Party movement. In other words, the next Speaker of the House is probably going to be someone who’s a little nuts… without Eric Cantor and thus John Boehner, we’re in for a long six years of political demagoguery. An already crippled Congress may be slipping into a coma from which we may never wake.

Will this happen, if McCarthy – Cantor’s “closest lieutenant” according to Beutler – moves in to the Majority Leader’s office? It would all depend on how busy the 115th Congress proposes to be. Beutler suggests, as mentioned in the first block-quote, that this will have minimal practical impact because there aren’t any major bills on the horizon. And how much difference will there really be, even if McCarthy approaches the role the same as Cantor? It appears to me, that the Tea Party and more extreme Republicans are pretty much a law unto themselves, rarely corralled by the leadership – unless their mutual goals coincide (obstructing anything Obama- or Democrat-promoted, for example).

If you believe the narrative that immigration is what killed Cantor’s election, that won’t be on the docket – nor will it be pushed or even whispered of by any Republican who will be in a tight or contested race in 2016. Let us hope, though, that cooler and more intelligent heads prevail, and the United States does move closer to addressing what is certainly one of its most broken policies.

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