Our guess is that congressional Republican leaders and their support team in Washington are looking for ways to un-flip a switch this week.
Since 2009, Republicans used this switch to great effect, rallying conservatives, returning control of the U.S. House of Representatives to their party and raising tons of cash from deep-pocketed opponents of the president.
We might call it the “tea party switch.” It electrified political extremism.
Americans upset with the election of Barack Obama found a focal point thanks to the tea party. Government was bad. Federal spending was bad. Regulation was bad. Moderation and compromise were even worse. Then there were the outrageous urban legends that questioned the president’s citizenship, his religion and his motives.
This is toxic stuff. It divides the nation. Distracts us from our pressing problems.
Powerful Republicans undoubtedly knew this. Yet, the temptation to play to the tea party was too much.
Of course, this path carried consequences. Republicans might control the U.S. Senate today were it not for tea party-flavored candidates who turned off centrist voters with their out-there ideas.
The latest casualty is U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the soon-to-be former House majority leader who lost a Republican primary election Tuesday to an upstart challenger. What in the world happened? It seems voters in Virginia’s 7th congressional district tossed out the second-most powerful man in the U.S. House because he was insufficiently extreme. In his place they nominated Dave Brat, an economics professor who quite obviously has none of the seniority and power of Cantor.
Cantor’s sin was looking for reasonable solutions to the nation’s immigration problems. To the right of his party, Cantor was for “amnesty,” a characterization that is unfair and inaccurate. Yet this simple-minded phrasing speaks loud and clear about elected Republicans’ bind.
Cantor was no visionary leader on immigration, but his support of immigration reform acknowledged that mass deportation of an estimated 11 million people was not feasible. That was enough to get him booted from office.
So, it appears Cantor was done in by the very people he and his fellow Republican leaders enabled, an electorate that puts the governing of the nation below ideological purity. We wish those leaders good luck in un-flipping that switch.