The conservative movement is caught in a Catch-22 of its own making. In the war against "the establishment" we have made being an outsider the most important qualification for a politician. The problem? Once elected, outsiders by definition become insiders. This isn't just a semantic point. The Constitution requires politicians to work through the system if they're going to get anything done.
Look at all the senators who rode the
For example, Rubio was hailed as "The First Senator from the Tea Party" by the New York Times. But once he became a senator he became … a senator. And there's just something about being a senator that makes the lock-and-load crowd want to flip the safeties on their muskets.
Obviously, policy choices matter. Rubio embraced immigration reform and it killed him with the talk-radio crowd. But there's a larger dynamic at work. Merely talking like a half-way responsible politician — "we don't have the votes," "we have to pay for it" — isn't what the angriest populists want to hear.
Cruz’s case is also instructive. Over the last decade, no politician more deftly hitched his political wagon to populist passions. He wore the animosity of his colleagues, including the
Until recently there was an “outsider” glass ceiling. The most strident populists —
President Trump has learned this simple fact the hard way. Yet for the first eight months of his presidency his core supporters have stuck with him. The establishment remains the villain and Trump the hero for his willingness to say or tweet things that make all the right people angry. For his most ardent supporters, the fault for his legislative failures lies entirely with the swamp, the establishment or the "Deep State."
But Judge Roy Moore's victory last week in a run-off against Alabama Sen. Luther Strange may signal that the base is not Trump's army to command. Trump endorsed Strange and — contrary to the president's tweets otherwise — that endorsement didn't help at all. The most important factor was Moore's demonization of the establishment, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The voters valued sticking their thumbs in the establishment's eye more than giving Trump a win.
What’s both funny and sad is that there is remarkably little intellectual or ideological substance to the current populist fever. The “Make American Great Again” crowd’s initial preferred candidate was Rep.
A lot of people are simply mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore. Republican politicians can't ignore the anger. Ideally they'd channel it toward productive ends, as they did in the past. But further stoking the anger for political gain is not just ill-advised, it's pointless, because eventually politicians have to govern.