“Ted Cruz is a total nihilist, shutting down the government. That and Rand Paul’s isolationism appeal to the lowest common denominator, which would make us a permanent minority in terms of presidential races.”

That’s GOP Rep. Pete King of New York, in a phone interview with me today, commenting on Tea Partyer David Brat’s surprise primary win over Eric Cantor. King says his worry is that Brat’s victory will enable “the Ted Cruz and Rand Paul wing to take over the party,” which “could make us a stronger party in many Congressional districts but it will prevent us from being a national party.”

King is a supporter of immigration reform, a cause many are fingering as the cause of Cantor’s loss. But Cantor never actually supported real reform, and his mere feints in the direction of reform were spun by Brat into a much larger narrative. And in a good piece, Sean Trende lays out why anger at Washington and establishment Republicans was probably more responsible for Cantor’s loss than the immigration itself.

Still, King acknowledges that Cantor’s loss means House Republicans won’t act on reform this year, given how the defeat is being widely interpreted. And King suggests the broader failure to embrace reform, along with following the destructively uncompromising and confrontational path blazed by Cruz, could hurt the party in the long run.

“There is an opportunity right now — we have Democrats who are willing to agree to strict border controls,” King says. “We could get meaningful reform which could satisfy most Democrats and Republicans.” But sticking with a “hard-line position,” King adds, “could make it easier in primaries, but nationwide that doesn’t sell.”

Meanwhile, we are learning a bit more about David Brat. He is being widely hailed as a populist, and it’s true that he frequently calls for jailing bankers. But his attacks on the bailout of banks after the financial crisis appear to be rooted as much in a belief that government interference in the economy tampers with the magic and supreme justice of unfettered free markets as it is in outrage against rewarding Wall Street malfeasants. Along these lines, he has also attacked the farm bill and flood insurance because they are not “free market institutions.”

And Brat’s brand of populism includes an unwillingness to take a position on the minimum wage hike, as well as attacks on legalizing kids brought to this country illegally by their parents as “amnesty.”

One person who is clearly convinced that Brat’s victory will steer the GOP in a neo-nativist direction is GOP Rep. Steve King. Today he tweeted:

Wanted: Applicants for Majority Leader in US House who have a record opposing amnesty. Come see me.

There you have it.

 

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.