Nihilist Populism

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 2 2013 9:42 AM

Nihilist Populism

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Misery loves company.

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The buzz-phrase of the moment on the right is "Libertarian Populism." It's supposed to fix the GOP's branding issues by pivoting the party toward bootstraps economics. It hasn't been tried, really; it lives thus far in long discourses between blogs and columns.

In my new piece, I salute the philosophy that the congressional GOP is actually embracing right now. Call it Nihilist Populism: connecting with voters on the belief that government can't really do anything well, and that their mistrust is well-earned, and then prioritizing bills that make this statement over bills that can pass. I maybe don't give them enough credit for coming down to the line on student loans, then passing a bill, but that was a minor crisis with an obvious deadline. One angle that I hope to explore later is the role of Democrats in pitching perfect games in the whip count and refusing any cover to Republicans. You know the scene at the end of Gladiator, where Commodus needs a sword but the soldiers he thought he could count on refuse to give him one? Well, it's not quite like that, but close.

Chuck Todd's shop at NBC, a good source of cynical "what are these guys doing?" congressional coverage, offers this take:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) tried to save face by letting it be known that he was not in favor of pushing for a government shutdown and endorsed a temporary continuing resolution to fund the government. He really has no choice. The president and Democrats know what they want out of the issues going forward. And as long as Republicans don’t have a realistic strategy, they’re going to find themselves with a losing hand and Boehner knows it. He’s simply hoping he can keep kicking the can until something changes.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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