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Eric Cantor and the Conventional Wisdom

June 11th, 2014 - 4:45 am

There are two words that recur like a drumbeat in the news stories about David Brat’s defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Virginia primary last night.  One is “historic.” The second is some variant of “stunning” (“staggering,” “shocking,” etc.).  John Fund does us the courtesy of deploying both: “Eric Cantor’s loss is historic,” he writes at National Review. “No sitting House majority leader has lost an election since the office was created in 1899. While Cantor’s loss was a stunning surprise, the warning signals were around for a while.” He then supplies a list of explanations that seemed obvious only after David Brat won. Yesterday afternoon, the wise men of the commentariat would have dismissed them with a self-assured thoroughness and consistency that is truly marvelous to behold.  

“Historic” and “stunning.”  That is, the triumph of the tea-party-backed economics professor was both 1) important and 2) unexpected.

It was unexpected because (for example) Cantor outraised Brat by $5.7 million to $231,000.  Cantor was the establishment candidate. He has (how long before that “s” becomes a “d”?) a national profile. Brat is . . .  (pause for Wikipedia check) an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College,  an obscure institution in Ashland, Virginia.

Frankly, though, what surprises me about such events as David Brat’s victory is the surprise they occasion. Nigel Farage and the other anti-EU politicians weren’t supposed to trounce the established parties in the European elections a couple of weeks ago. Members of the established parties and the human remora that attend them told us so. But Farage, Le Pen, and the rest trounced them across Europe.  This, said Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, was “a shock, an earthquake that all responsible leaders must respond to.”

Right.  And how’s that working out?  From where I sit, the response of “responsible leaders,” i.e., representatives of the conventional wisdom, has been mostly confined to what they used to call in the Wild West a circling of the wagons. Demonize the bastards. Ostracize ’em.  Talk incessantly about “fringe candidates” and “extremists”  who cannot win (except they just did), who will upset the status quo, which by an extraordinary coincidence just happens to benefit those registering their “shock,” their having been “stunned,” “staggered,” not to say “utterly dismayed.”

Both parties have been assiduous in demonizing the tea party.  And they’ve been quite effective in convincing themselves that it was yesterday’s news, that the upsets of 2010 were an anomaly, that business-as-usual (represented by us mature politicians who are already in office) had once again achieved the upper hand. Order, in short, had been restored.

Except that unexpected things like David Brat’s victory, like UKIP’s victory in the European election, keep happening.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Rand Paul supports Eric Cantor's position on immigration.

And what do "neocons" have to do with it?

(I already know the answer to that)

23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (26)
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Excuse me but I think you are too deeply into the weeds on this story. Dave Brat is a refreshing, youthful and compelling candidate who actually has a consistent "conservative" message. Guess what? He actually knows what free markets are. He actually says that the government cannot solve all our problems and should not try. He is not a pandering fool trying to go "democrat" lite all the time. He is a conservative. He ran as a conservative. He got up and said that he is a Christian and believes in telling the truth and that the fate of this great country belongs to the people not to the fat assed politicians and other jerks hanging around the beltway. Sorry no great mystery here. The problem is that NONE of our existing so called leaders ever mentions limited government and have not the slightest trace of "pair" when it comes to calling out Obama on what he is doing NOW to undermine and debase our country. So dare I say that Dave Brat won because of Dave Brat and no thanks to Fox or Reince or any of the other know it all usual suspects. End of story.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great comment, you nailed the real truth:
1. Despite the demonization, tea party positions (rather than the tea party itself) are actually quite popular, since they are basically just Reagan conservatism.
2. If you have a good articulate candidate, like Brat, with no hidden weaknesses, they can win by strongly running on tea party positions, and they dont even need to mention the tea party.
3. Interestingly enough to those obsessing with Koch buying candidates, Brat did not get any big money from the national tea party groups, he won on his own, due to grass roots tea party support, and some help from some conservative commentators.
4. Everybody is talking about immigration, and it helped Brat, but I think his other positions, like actually beleiving in free markets, faith, rule of law, balanced budget, and civil liberties, were just as important, if not more.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
This was a surprise result, certainly. Cantor apparently screwed up politically speaking, obviously, as he lost a race that all thought was his to lose.

Although it wasn't because he wasn't a conservative, as so many charge. He has one of the highest lifetime American Conservative Union scores in the entire GOP (95+%). Maybe he just ran a bad race, maybe there were some Dem crossover votes (VA has an open primary system). The turnout was much higher than his last election, and obviously Brat's turnout was much better. Was the higher turnout mainly a Tea Party protest vote, or was it Dem crossover? Don't know if there's any way to determine that answer after the fact.

But because Brat is so "obscure", few people know anything about him, really. Maybe he'll turn out to be great, maybe not so great. He apparently is kind of an odd duck, politically, being both a libertarian and a social conservative - but one who criticizes fellow SoCons for trying to enforce their own personal moral standards on everybody else via government power ... again, it's really unusual for people to be both strongly libertarian and socially conservative - the two factions typically go after each other pretty hard in GOP politics.

Time will tell whether this outcome has meaning beyond the VA voters and Cantor and Brat themselves.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Some of my smug leftie friends insisted last night that Brat's victory HAD to have been due to "brilliant Democrat strategists" encouraging a strong Dem crossover vote in the open primary. Their analysis being that this way the Dems would face a "weak, right-wing extremist" for this seat in November. The flaw in this smug theory - as I relished pointing out to them - is that there IS NO Dem candidate running in VA 7 in November. That election was over last night. The Democrat party was so sure that Cantor was unstoppable in that seat, they chose not to field a candidate this year. Oops! So much for brilliant Democrat strategists. So unless the Dems figure out a way to bend the election laws to run someone anyway, or a leftie runs an absurdly brilliant write-in campaign, this baby is over.

Also, why do you think it is such a dichotomy to be a fiscal free-market libertarian while being a social conservative. I agree with Brat that it is not the function of the government to impose any particular moral code. How he lives his life and how he would choose to govern are separate. Which, in my opinion, is how it should be.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
The obvious reason for the conflict between strong libertarianism and strong social conservatism is that most strong social conservatives have always advocated for laws against behavior they consider immoral (abortion, alcohol and drugs, divorce, same sex marriage, etc. etc.), while strong libertarians oppose all such laws governing personal behavior. It's so obvious that the two factions have been fighting each other for control of Republican policy forever.

You really needed to ask that?
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
And I think Brat found a way to bridge that devide by:
1. Speaking about the importance of faith and family, but saying it should mostly be divorced from governance. Gov cannot impose good morality (outiside of basic restrictions against crimes that harm others), but gov should also not subsidize bad morality, and opress religious people, as the dems wish to.
2. Speaking up for federalism. If the lefties in CA want to legislate something strange, that is their business, as long as they only do it in their state, and dont try to inflict it on the rest of us in other states. Same for an extreme socon in a conservative state. Then people can live in the states which suit them.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
We have about five years before the U.S. and the world suffer an 'unexpected'
shock to the economic system which brings the whole edifice down on our
Heads like Dr. Manhattan's glass clock. Hopefully Doctor Brat will convince
the loyal opposition in Congress of this in time to prepare for the big event.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm convinced there is still a majority who wish we don't descend into Brazil. I calculate we have approximately 50 years to get this trajectory corrected.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
We don't have anywhere near that long. 5 is optimistic.

23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Brat was gracious in his comments about Cantor last night.

His beef with so called comprehensive immigration reform/amnesty centers on the position of the Chamber of Commerce and business in general who want the cheap labor illegals provide and the effect of that on employment of legitimate (legal) US citizens of all stripes and complexions.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Casey's at bat, Kimball. You know that ball's going over the fence.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's Randolph-Macon.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wonder if Mr. Kimball and the neocon establishment will turn against Mr. Brat once they realize that he has great admiration for the ideas of Ayn Rand? Readers here will recall that Mr. Kimball has said some very nasty things about Ayn Rand.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Shouldn't an Objectivist support immigration deregulation?
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
There is a difference between deregulation and lawlessness. I'm perfectly fine with lowering the barriers to legal immigration. What I am entirely not fine with is importing vast numbers of people into a underground labor market and the parallel vast amount of tax and identify fraud it engenders.

The power to change laws comes with the responsibility to abide by the ones you set.

Remember, the same people who are arguing for illegal immigration now are the same people who forced their illegal workers into the fields when they were burning down during the last big round of CA fires. The only reason some of those people are not in jail or worse, is because they did it to people who have no legal standing, who they specifically brought into the country to have no legal standing.

They're trying to create a serf class that they can use and abuse at whim, and anyone who disagrees with them gets called a racist.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Interesting question. Libertarians, the extreme ones, don't like national borders (or national governments at all) which are objects of government power and law. Yet Brat made a big deal of going after immigration reform. Brat's also a social conservative, and SoCons and LibCons generally don't see eye to eye. Maybe Brat is emblematic of the built-in contradictions in what we call "conservativism" which has many factions that disagree with each other. A lot is made of the "fight over the soul of the GOP", which has always had multiple competing factions ... but there is just as much a fight over what constitutes "real conservatism".

If you want to start a fight, just put Defense Cons in the same room with Libertarians, or SoCons with LibCons, or FisCons with DefCons.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think Brat bridged the gap by emphasising his libertarian positions in areas where todays conservatives agree, like free markets, rule of law, limited gov, following the constitution, balancing the budget, and civil liberties.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
I guess some idiots still don't understand that once a country can't define and defend its borders, it is no longer a country.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not one that can do math.

First, we get rid of 100 years of Progressivism, then we can have self-regulating immigration.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ayn Rand declined to run in this election. Condolences.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
5, 4, 3, 2, 1: Here come the trolls.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
You should learn what "troll" means, lest you be confused with an ignorant and unintelligent teenager who has not learned that words matter.


HINT: It's not just somebody who disagrees with you.

23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
6 hours ago. Still waiting for the trolls.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
They haven't gotten the approved talking points yet.
Obama's crew is now obviously the JV squad, and they not only aren't on the ball, they've never even seen the ball and wouldn't recognize it if it was chained to their tender bits.
Give 'em time. Then we can laugh at their antics.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rand Paul supports Eric Cantor's position on immigration.

And what do "neocons" have to do with it?

(I already know the answer to that)

23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rand's also a pretty astute politician. I suspect he won't be leading with his chin on this issue.
23 weeks ago
23 weeks ago Link To Comment
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