WHEN CANTOR DELIBERATELY OPPOSES JOB GROWTH…. To appreciate just how confused House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) really is, consider his approach to the high-speed rail project in his home town of Richmond.

In early 2009, Cantor, then the Minority Whip, noticed that the Recovery Act included funding for a variety of high-speed rail projects, and publicly mocked the idea. He not only considered the infrastructure investments unnecessary, he even rejected the very idea that government spending could create jobs and generate economic growth.

A month later, Cantor changed direction — because the investment would help his constituents directly. The Republican congressman said high-speed rail in Richmond would spur economic development and create as many as 185,000 jobs in the area. “If there is one thing that I think all of us here on both sides of the political aisle from all parts of the region agree with, it’s that we need to do all we can to promote jobs here in the Richmond area,” Cantor said at the time.

This week, Cantor changed direction again, and no longer supports the rail project he heralded in April 2009.

[H]e can’t support projects like this anymore.

“We are in times that we need to go about shrinking the size of government, getting of rid of everything but absolute priority spending,” Cantor acknowledged at a press stakeout Tuesday morning. “I’ve already come out and said I would be in support of cutting that spending at this time.”

This is stuff Democrats like, the Chamber of Commerce likes, labor unions like, environmentalists like, and, once upon a time, “national greatness” Republicans liked. But genuflecting to their conservative base has become a higher priority for Republicans than supporting job-creating programs they once supported.

This really is remarkable. Eric Cantor has said the high-speed rail project in his own district would spur economic growth and create thousands of jobs, but he’s now against those priorities. The economy is nice, he argued this morning, but it’s not as important as some ideological goal about the “size of government.” Cantor knows the investments will create jobs, and he simply doesn’t care.

The importance of this example is that it takes the argument out of the abstract — it’s a simple either/or proposition. On the one hand, we have a transportation project that’s good for the economy and helps Cantor’s own constituents. On the other hand, we have some amorphous ideological axe to grind. As far as Cantor is concerned, the latter is more important than the former.

The lesson for Americans couldn’t be any clearer: jobs and the economy simply aren’t Republicans’ priority anymore.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.