Paul Waldman: GOP Base’s Anger, Perpetual Dissatisfaction Are ‘Incompatible With Governing’

June 14th, 2014 4:01 PM

The term “permanent revolution” is usually associated with Marxism, but American Prospect blogger Paul Waldman believes that these days, it’s movement conservatives who are talkin’ about a permanent revolution, and that their ideal Republican pol is an “agent of chaos and destruction, or at least pretend[s] that's who he is.”

In a Thursday post, Waldman quoted RealClearPolitics analyst Sean Trende’s explanation, in the wake of Eric Cantor’s loss, for why, in Trende’s words, “the Republican base is furious with the Republican establishment, especially over the Bush years.” Waldman’s reaction:

You may read that and say, "Are they crazy?" The view those of us on the left have of the Bush years is that conservatives got just about everything they wanted. They got huge tax cuts, scaled back environmental and labor regulations, a massive increase in defense spending, a couple of wars, the appointment of a cadre of true-believer judges nurtured by the Federalist Society, and nearly anything else they asked for.

Waldman then offered his take on the right’s current mentality (emphasis added):

[T]hey have embraced a permanent revolution, in which it's necessary to fight not just against Democrats but against Republicans as well, since every GOP leader is little more than a traitor waiting to be revealed.

If you're a Republican politician you can surf that tide, but it takes a lot of work. And it's almost impossible to do the things that most politicians try to do in Washington without alienating your base. Not that Eric Cantor was ever particularly sincere about representing the Tea Party, but the very act of joining the Republican leadership is enough to make clear to them that you're on the wrong side. People in the leadership organize things, try to master the system, and plan legislative strategy. All of that is suspect at best; the only true conservative, true conservatives will tell you, is the one pounding on the gates from the outside...

As far as that activist base is concerned, every Republican politician should be nothing but an agent of chaos and destruction, or at least pretend that's who he is. It's not only incompatible with governing, it's barely compatible with holding office. Anyone who actually tries to accomplish anything is quickly turned from hero to traitor, as Marco Rubio was when he attempted to devise an immigration plan; Tea Partiers who once celebrated Rubio now view him with contempt. The only kind of legislator who can stay in their good graces is one who never bothers legislating, like Ted Cruz. Writing laws is for compromisers and turncoats; what matters is that the revolution continue forever.

Things can always change, but if this sentiment endures, it'll be interesting to see what happens the next time a Republican is elected president. Because whoever that president is, he will never be able to satisfy this base; indeed, by the very act of taking office and beginning to govern he will have assured them that betrayal is on its way. Their rage will endure. But maybe that's just how they like it.