11 June 2014

The Brat PAC

In an upset that may belie the belief that the Tea Party is an alien growth from "astroturf" planted by the Koch brothers and other reactionary billionaires, an obscure economics professor has defeated the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, the second-ranking Republican in the lower house of Congress, in a primary election. Rep. Eric Cantor vastly outspent Dr. Dave Brat but lost badly, probably more so than anyone expected. The storyline since last night has been that Brat's was a victory for nativism, that Cantor's constituents had punished him for too soft a stance on immigration. This issue furthered the impression that Cantor had become one of the "political class" and had grown aloof from local concerns and values. Meanwhile, Brat's win sounds like a victory for the radio talkers who did the most to promote him on their shows, giving him free advertising that made up, in part, for Cantor's overwhelming dominance on TV. Their influence can't turn a primary by itself -- they've tried and failed elsewhere this year -- but when other circumstances are right the talkers clearly can make a difference.

Philosophically, Brat looks like someone trying to have it both ways. He wants to send a signal to libertarians by claiming he was "influenced" by Ayn Rand's writings -- he's actually published a scholarly paper on her -- but he also wants to assure other constituencies that he's not a "Randian." Being that wouldn't be compatible with his conviction that "faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers [sic?] is essential to the moral fiber of the nation." That's one of six items in Brat's "Republican Creed." The other five affirm free enterprise as the best and most just economic system; recommend fiscal responsibility; respect constitutional limits for the sake of individual liberty on government action; advocate peace through military strength; and declare that "all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society," That last one covers a lot of ground, and it'll be interesting to see how much of that ground Brat acknowledges when he runs against a fellow faculty member who won the Democratic nomination in this district. Still, as a minimalist statement of Republican (or Tea Party) belief it could be worse, though the point about religion is bad enough. I assume Brat's is a strong GOP district and expect him to win. He'll have little seniority, however, and Cantor is no real loss. His defeat most likely ends his political career; Virigina has one of those odious "sore loser" laws that forbid him from running against Brat on another party line, although he's allowed to run as a write-in candidate. Most likely he won't; the verdict of his constituents looks too decisive to dispute. Meanwhile, the Tea Party may be like al-Qaeda in this respect: you can hear any number reports of a "leader" being defeated (as opposed to killed or captured), and hopeful analysis of their irreversible decline --- but the next thing you know, hardcore Sunni jihadists are taking the second-biggest city in Iraq, or some unknown guy overthrows the House Majority Leader. These movements have deeper roots than optimists want to admit.

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