(I wrote most of this post Wednesday morning intending to publish it by the afternoon. But you know how it goes.)
Always impressed by how journalists and pundits covering an election night can know what the results mean before the sun comes up and their last cup of coffee’s gone cold on their desk.
But lots of them know already what happened in Virginia’s 7th Congressional district Republican primary and why House Majority Leader lost to Tea Party challenger and “liberal college professor” Dave Brat.
They all know. They don’t all agree.
Which makes me suspect they’re all just giving it their best guess and trying to pass it off as “analysis”. Ain’t I the cynic?
My favorite guess, though, is that Cantor lost to a coalition of personal complacency and smart-aleck Democrats sneaking in to vote in the open primary.
Have to wait for the polls to see how much of an effect those sneaky Democrats had---it already appears not much---but complacency definitely cost him.
Cantor lost because he didn’t get enough votes. I mean, he and his campaign workers didn’t go out, round up their supporters, and bring them to the polls, and that includes Cantor himself. According to Ezra Klein, on primary day, Cantor wasn’t back home rallying the faithful. He was in Washington, fundraising for the general election in the fall. Brat got his voters out to vote. There weren’t a lot of them. Just enough of them.
Hmmm, says the Press Corps. Can’t be that simple. An election like this has to mean something or else why do we do we need political journalists?
Let’s find another narrative.
How about immigration reform?
The most commonly shared best guess that I’ve seen is that Cantor lost because he wasn’t sufficiently hardline on keeping out the you know whos. That sounds like Cantor, doesn’t it? “Give us your tired, your poor…” If that’s the case, that voters in VA07 thought Eric Cantor was too welcoming, it goes to show that you can’t be angry enough, hateful enough, frightened enough to keep the love of the Republican Right Wing base, which is another way of saying the Tea Party faithful, who were supposed to have been chased back under their rocks by the sensible, reasonable, responsible, moderate, establishmentarian Republicans. I’ll get to that.
One thing there does seem to be universal agreement on, the secondary story here: Cantor’s defeat has shocked the folks back in Washington.
Nobody saw it coming.
His was supposed to be among the safest of safe seats.
Lindsey Graham, it was acknowledged, had some work cut out for him. Mitch McConnell too. But I’m not sure people in DC even noticed Cantor was being challenged in a primary. Like I said, Cantor acted like he didn’t notice either.
But I suspect another reason for the surprise, especially among pundits and journalists, is that the Tea Party uprising was, like I mentioned, supposed to have been put down by the sensible, responsible Republicans.
The pundits and the journalists know about polls showing the Tea Party’s unpopularity---they’ve heard of them, at any rate. I’m still not sure they bother to read polls even after Nate Silver showed them how it’s done with all his math and stuff back in 2012. But the fact appears to be that the Tea Party is unpopular everywhere except where it is popular. You don’t have to read a lot of polls to figure that out.
You want to see the Tea Party in action? Get out of D.C. Visit the states where Republicans control the state houses. All the craziness coming out of those places is not due to moderate establishmentarians fearlessly fighting to find common ground with Democrats.
Now look at who’s the current front-runner for the Republican nomination.
No, Mr Pundit, it’s not Jeb Bush.
It’s Ted Cruz.
But the Tea Party is on the run!
People know this because they’ve been told so…by sensible, responsible Republicans.
Like Mitch McConnell.
As if there is such a thing anymore as a sensible, responsible Republican.
I don’t know why, but the Washington Press Corps persists in believing there is and, like believers in ghosts for whom all houses turn out to be haunted, they keep finding them.
One thing that makes this easier is their definition of a sensible, responsible Republican apparently doesn’t include being responsible.
Responsible Republicans aren’t Republicans who vote responsibly on issues like combating global warming, balancing the budget, creating jobs, protecting women’s health and well-being, controlling gun violence, immigration reform, and so on. Responsible Republicans are Republicans who would, they swear, vote responsibly if only the Democrats would compromise by inventing positions for Republicans to take that were both responsible and still conservative, that is, that did not cost money, raise taxes, benefit the Democratic base, or, well, actually solve anything.
Basically, a responsible Republican is a Republican who can sound sincerely disappointed about how Republicans are given no choice by those Democratic bullies in Congress and the really arrogant one in the White House but to vote irresponsibly.
Then there’s that word moderate. It’s used as if it means “not guided entirely by ideology; willing to consider others’ points of view and compromise; not stubbornly partisan”. What it really is is a description of people who moderate. They moderate their voices. Moderate their rhetoric. Moderate their demeanors. It’s a way of saying without saying, “Here’s someone who won’t embarrass me by acting as if his politics and his views on a given issues matter.”
The political press loves this about these moderates because it helps them play the She said/He said game without having to think about what He actually said, and that, it turn, lets them continue in their fondest dream about what goes on in Washington, that it is a game.
They can go on with their sports reporting without having to take sides.
They can keep up their Both Sides Do It dodge. Both sides turn the ball over. Ball sides talk trash. Both sides steal signs. Both sides do everything they can to win. Both sides have star players who can be cast as heroes or villains. Both sides are just playing for a trophy.
So the sensible, responsible, moderate Republicans told them the Tea Party was no longer a worry, and they swallowed it.
Never mind how those sensible, responsible, moderate Republicans actually vote.
Never mind that they rarely and barely say boo when one of their Tea Party colleagues or nominally fellow Republicans in Congress or back home says something like non-Christians are damned or homosexuals should be stoned to death.
Never mind that how sensible, responsible, moderate Republicans have beat back Tea Party challengers as been by un-moderating their rhetoric and championing views that are decidedly not sensible or responsible.
Never mind that the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and the presumed next Speaker of the House was a Tea Party darling until he was deemed to be not Right Wing enough.
You’d think by now worshippers in the Church of the Savvy would have savvied that the Tea Party was not a spontaneous grassroots uprising of regular folks riled up by Rick Santelli’s CNBC rant against the irresponsible borrowers he blamed for crashing the economy and infuriated by the passage of the ACA. It was a well-financed, well-thought out, well-organized mobilization of forces already at work within the Republican Party making it the party of Right Wing Reaction. Tea Party types and sympathizers didn’t give up and go home. They were home. Are home. And they didn’t give up. They won.
Dave Brat isn’t just a Tea Party hero. He’s an up and coming Republican star.
This is interesting but probably academic. (Academic! Get it? I’m talking about Dave Brat who’s a college professor!) Brat ran a vociferously anti-banker, anti-Wall Street, anti-corporate money in politics populist campaign. He tied it in with the usual Tea Party rage against immigrants, but in sound, feeling, and, possibly, principle, it was old-fashioned populism of the kind that gives the elites of both parties nightmares.
And in this post at the New Yorker, David Brat, the Elizabeth Warren of the Right, Ryan Lizza writes that Brat’s message is being “embraced by Tea Party candidates around the country.”
I’ll believe it when I see it, but wouldn’t it be something?
The Tea Party Types have been steadily adding to their list of the people relegated to the status of THEM, the THEM who are not US and are responsible for whatever’s wrong with America at the moment, and it would be funny if they’ve finally hit on a THEM who are in fact responsible, the banksters and fraudsters of Wall Street and their pet journalists and bought and paid for politicians of both parties.
There are progressives looking for reasons to Stand With Rand. Maybe we’ll start seeing Tea Party types who want to Start Roarin’ With Warren!
That’s not me making my best guess, of course, or even a wild guess.
That’s me dreaming.
From Vox: 12 things to know about Dave Brat.
At the New York Times, Trip Gabriel and Richard Perez-Pena does a compare and contrast between Brat and his Democratic opponent in the fall, Jack Trammell, who is also his fellow professor at Randolph-Macon College and teammate on a faculty basketball team.
Kevin Drum agrees that the Tea Party has won, but he as he sees it that means FoxNews has won too.
More on Right Wing populism from digby, The American right wing populist strain was perfectly realized in David Brat's campaign.