Four Takeaways From Cantor's Defeat

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 08:  House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) delivers remarks about his support
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 08: House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) delivers remarks about his support of charter schools and tax-funded voucher programs that help pay for private and parochial schools at the Brookings Institution January 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. 'Right now, school choice is under attack,' Cantor said. He also said that the House Republicans will work to prevent anything that 'could devastate the growth of education opportunity,' including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's pledge to charge rent to the wealthiest charter schools. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

First, the GOP is screwed on immigration and outreach to the Latino community. The dance of self-denial that Marco Rubio has been performing is about to become a required skill for all Republican candidates. Which most likely means there is zero likelihood of a viable national candidate for the Republicans in 2016. That's not exactly a startling bit of news -- as any number of commentators have pointed out, the Republican strategy has been to secure their base in Congress at the cost of any plausible claim to representing a national constituency. That strategy is either the cost or the result (take your pick) of permitting the tea party to maintain its stranglehold over the party with a level of extremism that frankly boggles the mind. Eric Cantor was not a sufficiently hardcore fundamentalist? Eric Cantor? "American Taliban" takes on a whole new meaning.

Second, at this point we cannot avoid seriously considering the possibility that the GOP is finished as a national party. The possibility of a third party has never seemed more plausible: Someone will want to try to step forward to challenge the Democrats at the national level, and surely there is some limit -- there has to be some limit to what traditional GOP voters will accept.

Third, the American political system is broken beyond any minor or simple repair. The extreme polarization in the parties that has resulted from our idiotic primary system is so far beyond any reality in the population at large that the idea of "representative" democracy is becoming almost literally meaningless. Again, this is not a novel observation, but Cantor's defeat shows just how deeply the rot has run. The Republican lurch to the right over the past decade is not just a result of the demagogues at Fox News and corporations buying elections, it was made possible and perhaps even inevitable by the system itself. The idea that America stands as an exemplar of democratic self-government is quickly becoming laughable, the blackest of black humor. (I find it painful to watch Jon Stewart these days -- I sometimes have the impression he is finding it hard to do the show himself.)

Finally, about Dr. Brat. It's going to be an interesting election, turning on the question "which is greater: a) Republican willingness to abandon all pretense of seriousness, or b) Democratic inability to mobilize in the face of an immediate threat to their fundamental values?" I strongly suspect the answer is b), and that Dr. Brat will win the coming election against his liberal sociologist colleague. Which raises the question of what kind of role he and others like him will play in Congress. Interestingly enough, I think these are people with whom Democrats should be able to find some common ground, and not just on legalizing marijuana. For various reasons I have been spending a good bit of time talking to Ayn Rand followers lately. Their understanding of American history and the working of a modern economy is cartoonish. And while most of them seem to be decent and caring individuals, their willingness to abandon any responsibility or obligation toward others verges on the sociopathic.

And yet! There is substantial room for common ground: reforming the bloated system of corporate welfare, reining in the entirely non-value-creating financial sector, restraining the carnivorous security state, rethinking some of our neocon tendencies in international relations. Perhaps even reforming the political system itself; there is no greater example of rent-seeking anywhere than corporations buying elections, is there? A party so fundamentalist in its outlook that Eric Cantor is not sufficiently pure (Eric Cantor!) could be principled enough to reject the corrupt system that brought it to power in the first place. So for Democrats, in dealing with these people as members of Congress the strategy is not to perform their own version of "the Party of No" that Cantor did so much to create. Fight when you need to fight, cooperate when there is a common goal. You know, politics. Who knows what might be possible?