June 13, 2014

TO MY KNOWLEDGE, HE’S NEVER FALSELY CLAIMED NATIVE AMERICAN ANCESTRY: Is Dave Brat the “Elizabeth Warren of the Right”?

It’s certainly possible to take the Warren analogy too far; Brat doesn’t have the same devoted following as Warren or her Ivy League academic prestige, and he lacks a parallel position within the conservative firmament. But it’s not a bad comparison, as far as it goes. And it touches on some of the ways that liberal populism and conservative or libertarian-tinged populism often overlap—the distrust of elites, frustration with those in power, and anger over the ways that big government and big business, so often assumed to be titanic opponents, work in tandem against the interests of the masses.

It also suggests the political power of this populist critique, even on the right. In recent years, liberals have successfully channeled anger against the joining of businesses interests and political power, but Republican politicians have not been nearly as effective in their attempts to do so, despite the current of anti-elite sentiment that runs through the Tea Party. There are many reasons why the GOP hasn’t been as successful (its reliance on corporate donors, its professional connections with corporate lobbying groups, the fact that many of its candidates are themselves part of the business class), but one reason why is that criticism of business, big or small, is simply not part of the identity the GOP has built for itself over the last several decades. That’s not the language it speaks; the GOP is the party that represents business, not the party that criticizes corporate power.

Dave Brat, on the other hand, knew how to speak that language, and it turned out to be particularly effective against an eager, ambitious establishmentarian widely viewed as out of touch with the local interests of his constituents.

It’s paywalled, but Kimberley Strassel makes a similar point in the WSJ. Excerpt:

Mr. Brat reprised his themes for Fox News’s Sean Hannity the night of his victory, explaining: “We need to take free markets seriously. That means we have to put an end to all these tax credits and tax deductions and loopholes. [Michigan Rep.] Dave Camp had a good bill which simplified the tax code and had a Reagan-esque 10 and 25 percent rate. That made sense and it was going to be pro-growth.” This clearly resonated with the 56% of voters who chose to rout a sitting majority leader. . . .

Mr. Brat openly derided “Making Life Work,” referring to its “catchy little phrases to compete with Democrats for votes.” As he told Mr. Hannity: “I do not want the federal government trying to make my life work.” Mr. Brat also ably tied together the cronyism/complexity/growth arguments to make the case for real tax reform (rather than Democrat-lite tax spending).

The hallmark of conservative policy innovation is the use of markets to limit government and expand citizen freedom and choice. That’s reform. The lesson of the Brat-Cantor race is that the traditional reform concept is still popular (and populist). At least when it’s delivered with economic understanding and conviction.

Given that President Goldman Sachs is in the pocket of Wall Street, and that the Dems are championing policies that benefit the very rich and the very poor at the expense of the middle class, this would seem to be a fruitful line of attack.

And, unsurprisingly: The House GOP Represents More Low-Wage Workers Than Do Democrats. Check out the map.

Related: Ed Morrissey: The Absurdity Of Leadership Fights In An Era Of Populism. “Cantor became part of the institutions rather than someone who could represent his district’s interests in contrast to them. Cantor missed the populist swing in his district, and the House GOP seems to be missing it in general.”