Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A few random thoughts on Eric Cantor's defeat

Yeah, yeah, I know what you're all thinking: "You haven't written a blog post in a month and now you give us political analysis of the GOP? Where's our beagle haiku?!"

What can I say? It's been a busy couple of months for reasons I should probably write about here, too, when I get a chance. (Nothing bad, mind you, just village budget season, busy at work, rebuilding our porch roof, Arsen & Brigitte's impending move, etc. ... all stuff that is of great personal interest to me, but doesn't necessarily make for compelling blog post fodder.)

I'm pretty sure that most of you who stop by this blog occasionally know who Eric Cantor is, but since nobody outside political circles and the Beltway media really cares about the name of anybody in our terrible Congress, a quick introduction is in order. Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor is the the Republican House Majority Leader, which makes him #2 in the House of Reps hierarchy behind the Speaker of the House. He was generally considered to be the leading candidate to be the next Speaker. He was also one of the leading architects of the GOP's "Oppose all things Obama, whatever they are" strategy in Congress, one of the leaders of the GOP's return to a House majority in 2010, one of the GOP's top money-raisers in any role, a great help in the Tea Party's rise to prominence, and one of the most prominent institutional conservatives in Washington.

Last night, after spending more than $5 million on his Congressional primary, in one of the biggest campaign upsets in recent history Eric Cantor was beaten handily by an obscure Tea Party candidate who spent about $200,000 in campaign donations. Needless to say, the Beltway media, cable news, and the political Twitterverse went nuts.  And for once, they had something to truly go nuts about. This was genuine news that nobody expected. It was so shocking that I even (briefly) turned to the cable news channels for the first time in nearly 18 months. It was so shocking I even reckoned I'd add a few thoughts of my own to the maelstrom:

1) A lot of the instant analysis seemed to think this was about the base repudiating the national GOP's attempts to do some sort of immigration reform, since that's what a lot of the campaign rhetoric in this primary was about. I don't think that's entirely true, since to the extent that Cantor did anything on that front it looks to me as if he did more to block immigration reform than to move it along. I do believe, however, the immigration reform became a stalking horse for what this was really about:

2) People in both parties are really pissed at this Congress, and really pissed at the incumbents of both parties who spend their time working on the concerns of lobbyists and big money instead of spending their time working on the concerns of their actual constituents. Populism is alive and well in the GOP and in the Democratic Party. This result wasn't about very conservative versus ultra-conservative. This result was about "the people who feel they've been getting the shaft from politicians" versus K-Street.

3) How firmly ensconced was Cantor in the inner-Beltway lifestyle? My favorite statistic came courtesy of the New York Times. Cantor's campaign spent $168,637 at steakhouses since the start of 2013. I remind you again that his opponent spent about $200,000 on his entire campaign.

4) My guess is that despite the stench of this defeat Cantor will make more money in the next few years as a lobbyist than you or I will ever see in the cumulative total of our working careers. You don't get to be House Majority Leader without knowing how to game the system.  Don't worry, beef farmers of America. Eric Cantor will continue to rack up the ol' steakhouse bills, just from the other side of the slush fund.

5) This result is why I tell everybody working on a campaign to take nothing for granted and to work at it as hard as possible right up until the polls close. You never, never, never know for sure what's going to happen. Never.

6) Cable news has, if anything, become even more unwatchable during my time away from it. Given one of the most significant political stories of the last decade, this is what I saw during my visit to the cableverse. Fox News was unbearably moronic. MSNBC was unbearably smug. And CNN was airing an OJ Simpson "Trial of the Century" retrospective.

No, I'm not kidding about that last bit.

I reckon I can safely go another 18 months before checking in again.

7) Until last night I thought that my own obscure Tea Partying incumbent House Representative Kerry Bentivolio had zero chance to hold his seat in his August primary against challenger David Trott. For those who don't know of Bentivolio, he was an obscure Tea Party candidate who -- through a series of incredibly strange and unlikely events -- ended up as the GOP candidate in our gerrymandered district. He won in 2012, but everybody expected a more conventional candidate to challenge him in 2014, and that has indeed happened. Trott has been a big fundraiser for the GOP over the years, served on Mitt Romney's finance committee, has far outraised the incumbent Bentivolio, and has all the institutional Republican support any candidate could want.

Until last night I would've thought "David Trott wants to be the next Eric Cantor" would be the Democratic candidate's slogan in November. After last night's result I'd be surprised if Bentivolio's campaign isn't right now preparing a mailer with that message plastered across the front.

That primary campaign just turned interesting.

8) Closing thought -- I can't believe how much time I've spent blogging about internal Republican politics the last couple of years. I care 10,000 times more about what's going on inside the Democratic Party. But the truth is that Democratic Party politics since 2008 have been pretty predictable, whereas the most outlandish things seem to happen all the time on the right side of the aisle.

I am truly amazed that I live in a world in which the Republican Party is more colorful by far than the Democrats, since my fellow Democrats had a lock for decades on the "outlandish and colorful" title. Truly the 21st century is a strange and bizarre science-fictional place.

Here. I give you a photo of a blimp with a big video screen flying behind a giant video screen, in celebration of our strange sci-fi world: