Rightward, Ho!

Regular readers know that I believe the overriding political phenomenon of our era is the conquest of the Republican Party by a radicalized conservative movement. That’s particularly important since the Republican Party itself is a presidential election away from potentially enjoying total power over the federal government.

So none of the insanity in the House this week especially surprises me. But that’s probably not the case for a lot of observers who really have a hard time accepting that the two parties aren’t pretty much the same. WaPo’s Chris Cillizza is an example of someone who seems to have experienced scales falling from his eyes:

There is a revolution happening within the Republican party right now. The establishment’s hold on power is more tenuous than it has been at any time in recent memory. There is no one currently in office that can claim with any credibility that he or she speaks “for” the party as a whole.

Tell me about it, Chris. Cillizza does go on to connect some dots:

If you are Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or John Kasich, what happened on Thursday in Washington should put a lump in your throat. The Republican establishment has been operating for months — really since the rise of Trump — under a belief that, eventually, things will return to “normal” and that the party will put forward an establishment candidate for president. That was the same wrong-headed thinking I heard constantly in the run-up to today’s speaker vote: Yeah, sure, conservatives weren’t sold on McCarthy, but the alternatives weren’t any good or serious, and so he would win. Nope.

This threat to the establishment from the conservative activist base is real. The sooner the establishment realizes it — and the resignation of Boehner/demise of McCarthy should help them get it — the better chance they will have to combat it. But, I also think that the possibility exists that the establishment doesn’t have the ability to put down this revolution. Which is an amazing thing to ponder as the country gets ready to elect a new president in 13 months time.

Yeah, but some of us have stopped being amazed by this and accepted it as the way the wind is blowing.

Now Cillizza’s comment on the presidential race does make me want to pose a question to the many knowledgeable observers, from Capitol Hill to far-flung political science departments around the country, who believe with religious conviction that party elites have an iron grip on the presidential nomination, and will instruct fractious rank-and-file voters how to behave when the Visible Primary begins.

If The Establishment cannot control a Speaker’s election inside its Beltway fortress where it controls actual and tangible levers of power, how can you be so sure it can control a presidential nominating contest? Are Iowans more controllable than House Members?

But even if Trump and Carson and Cruz fade and a candidate acceptable to The Establishment gets the nomination, that doesn’t necessarily mean the GOP’s March to the Right has ended. Take a really hard look at Marco Rubio, presently the smart-money bet to win the nomination. Is this guy a “moderate” by any sensible definition? He was a Tea Party darling in 2010, who then committed a single heresy on a single issue (immigration), which he has all but crawled on his knees to Steve King to recant, even as he’s taken the right-most position available on almost everything else. If he wins, certain wacko birds will lose. But the idea that conservative militancy would lose in that scenario is a product of a very disoriented commentariat.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.