In the Arena

Cantor to the Woodshed

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David Rogers over at Politico, who has been doing this–extremely well–for about as long as I have, has word that the President of the United States monstered down on Representative Eric Cantor in Wednesday’s deficit ceiling squabble. This is so refreshing on so many levels. Cantor has been using this crisis to undermine his leader John Boehner, by playing the Tea Party/Grover Norquist recalcitrance card. The boy badly needed someone to get up in his face and Barack Obama, of all people, apparently did, telling Cantor, in no uncertain terms, that he’d veto any short term deficit ceiling fix or, indeed, any plan that did not include revenue increases. Then Obama walked out, or the meeting ended, depending on whom you talk to.

So what we have now is the Republican party in, yes, disarray–a word used to describe Democrats almost exclusively, back in the day before the crazies took over the GOP store. You have Cantor and the House Teasies opposing any revenue increases, including a tax loophole closing plan that Ronald Reagan and Edmund Burke would have smiled upon. You have Boehner, struck dumb apparently, after his attempt at bipartisan statesmanship with the President was greeted by tossed shoes and catcalls from the Teasies. You have Mitch McConnell, well, I’m speechless about Mitch McConnell…

Here’s this Kentucky dude whose every action, before Tuesday, painted him as one of the most cynical operators we’ve seen on Capitol Hill since Pitchfork Ben Tillman–and now, suddenly, he’s gone all rational on us, chiding his Republican forces (that means you, Eric) about leading the party to the electoral slaughterhouse if they don’t take this debt ceiling business seriously. He has proposed to place the responsibility for raising the debt ceiling solely on the President and let Obama run with that. This is looking more likely today than it did yesterday.

But what will happen tomorrow? Obama and Boehner proposed to do something really good for the country. Obama and the Republican leadership could still work out a significant deficit reduction deal–as Jay Newton-Small reports, $1.7 in cuts have already been agreed upon–if the CantorTeasians are will to bend just a teensy bit and include some loophole closing. Or we can just forget about the whole thing, go the McConnell route…in which case, I hope the President submits his $2 Trillion defict reduction compromise bill to the Congress and dares the Republicans to vote against it.

In an upcoming print column, I interview Grover Norquist, who came up with the idea of the No Tax pledge when he was in high school as a way to “brand” the Republicans and distinguish them from the Democrats. And there you have it in a nutshell: You can agree or disagree with Ronald Reagan–my own feeling is that his reputation is overblown–but the guy had principles. He was also a pol and he knew that the politics of principle was always, under the best of circumstances, a matter of two steps forward and one step back. That’s why he raised taxes, massively, three times (in 1982, almost exclusively on businesses, for chrissakes).

But the Republican Party has moved from Reagan’s politics of principle to Norquist’s politics of marketing. The central principle of marketing is: you sell to the niche, you protect your niche and make money off of it, your brand–not your principles–is your most valuable commodity. That’s the secret of Fox News–brand over reality. And that’s the reason why the Republican Party is in serious danger of reducing itself to a drooly-mouthed anti-tax cult. And to think: they used to be considered the grownups.