Michael Wolraich's picture

    Eating Eric Cantor

    If revolutions eat their children, then Eric Cantor is the plat du jour. Just a couple years ago, he was the supposed leader of the right-wing House insurgency. The press waited hungrily for him to revolt against John Boehner and claim the Speaker's crown for himself. But Cantor chose to wait it out, and now the same insurgent spirit that bolstered his ambition has tossed him out of the House entirely.

    It's tempting to celebrate Cantor's comeuppance and the turmoil it will bring to the Republican Party, but the truth is, his loss is bad for the country. Within a year, Cantor will be just another fallen Republican rep, the latest in a long line of increasingly conservative leaders: Bob Michel, Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, Roy Blunt, Tom DeLay, etc, many of whom have been edged out by right-wing insurgents.

    There will be a new Cantor soon, even angrier, even less pragmatic, even more right-wing. Nervous Republicans, desperate to avoid Cantor's fate, will continue their sad race to the bottom of the tea cup. Our dysfunctional Congress will continue to break down over budgets and debt ceilings. We will have no new legislation for at least two and a half years, probably more.

    That doesn't seem worth celebrating to me.

    Michael Wolraich is the author of Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics



    The silver lining, if there is one, even if the victor over Cantor wins the general election and takes his seat in the House, is that it will cause establishment Republicans to so amp up their tea rhetoric that they become less and less appealing the general public overall in areas where there is more sway in the "independent" and moderate voters.

    I don't buy it. People have been predicting that right-wing Republicans would lose the mainstream since the 1970s. They were wrong in 1980 (Reagan Revolution). They were wrong in 1994 (Gingrich's Republican Revolution). They were wrong in 2000 (George W. and Tom DeLay). They were wrong in 2010 (Tea Parties). Every cycle, right-wing insurgents lose a few races but move the country further to the right, and the cycle begins anew.

    While I agree we have been moving to the right in general, I would point out that Bush in 2000 ran with "compassionate conservatism" and the country did re-elect Obama to a second term in 2012.  I have also argued and blogged on a number of occasions that this nation as whole is a lot more conservative than people on the left would like to admit. Even those who on an issue by issue basis would be considered leaning to the left, prefer to refer to themselves as "conservative" as opposed to "liberal" or "progressive."

    The factor that has to be taken into account has nothing to do with policy position per se, but in the growing dissatisfaction with and faith in government as whole, which I know you are quite aware has been growing steadily over the decades.  Many of those who feel aligned with the tea party feel this way simply because the tea party candidates offer that outsider to the beltway (whether local, state or federal) while professing similar values, Christianity being a huge one in many parts of the country (esp. among those who actually go out and vote in primaries and the general elections.

    I, for one, reject the notion that we have been moving to the right in general, although I'm sure it's largely because "moving to the right" is such a hard thing to define. We have the ACA, more and more states are recognizing the rights of homosexuals to marry, I feel that we're making progress with immigration (although that might be illusory), and we're ever so slowly making progress on environmental issues (sometimes we gain, sometimes we lose, but I feel the trend is positive).

    I agree with you about gay rights, but that's about it.

    ACA succeeded because of a shift in tactics and policy, not attitudes. If the Clintons had adapted Obama's plan, it would have passed easily. Recall that the Heritage Foundation proposed an ACA-like plan in the 90s.

    I find environmental attitudes shocking given the now overwhelming evidence of climate change. Our limited "progress" has been driven by escalation of the crisis, not more enlightened politics. Maybe when southern Florida falls into the sea, people will finally adopt progressive attitudes on climate change.

    Immigration politics is following the usual cycle of xenophobic demagoguery followed by pragmatic acceptance as new immigrant communities enter the electorate.

    On guns, taxes, labor, abortion, welfare, education, and campaign finance, we're going backward.

    And the worst part of it is, most Democrats seem to be willing to settle for not going backward. America has moved progressively forward since 1776. Lack of progress is a victory for conservatism.

      I'm not sure we are moving backward on social welfare. One party seems pretty committed to restoring/preserving the safety net. In the 90s we had Clinton Democrats working with Republicans to destroy it, or much of it. So the current situation may be considered progress, at least if the standard of comparison is the Clinton years or the Bush years.

    Obama was very ready to significantly cut SS and other safety net programs as part of a Grand Bargain. Cantor in fact has claimed the credit for convincing Boehner to withdraw from the Grand Bargain thinking republicans could get an even better deal after the 2012 election.

    Look it up, Cantor is quoted in several sources claiming credit for scuttling the deal. We can only thank him and other tea party congress people for saving liberal democrats from Obama's desire for a Grand Bargain. Fortunately Cantor's replacement will be just as intransigent.

    "Moving to the right in general" is definitely something that is very difficult to define, and while there has been progress on some fronts, for awhile as an example, whenever gay marriage was put to popular vote it was defeated, whereas the courts kind of got us going in the right direction. I had numerous "liberal" acquaintances who were opposed to "gay marriage, although most were for some kind of civil union. A weird distinction, but it usually came from their religious beliefs about the ceremony of marriage (and the unfounded fear that their particular church would be forced to conduct and condone gay marriage). But once people saw the social fabric didn't unravel, their lives continued on in the same way it always had, it has become more acceptable and suddenly a non-issue for many. 

    I think 9/11 did a number on the collective psyche of the American public, where suddenly the notion of torture became open to debate, something I never thought might happen in the 21st-Century America, and so on. Moreover, economic woes always tend to generate a bunker mentality, which I would say generates a more conservative stance as people tend to become more focused on themselves and those closest to them (and to hell with the rest). People care about the environment, but in places dependent upon coal generated electricity, when it comes to battle between paying higher utility bills to protect the environment or continuing in the old ways, the personal wallet tends to always makes the decision.

    'Moving to the right' for me includes in a large part a move towards less government and community or collective involvement in the lives of people. I guess I would say less that we have been moving more to the right and say more accurately that we have become more libertarian in our views.  'It Takes a Village' has lost some ground over a decade, unless of course the village is gathering to fight those pesky terrorists.

    And I've argued at length that Americans didn't just lose faith in government. Conservative Republicans have spent the past 40 years demonizing government by presenting it as tyrannical, anti-Christian, controlled by out-of-touch liberals, favoring minorities at the expense of white people, etc. They have not simply tapped into latent anti-government attitudes. They have very effectively nurtured anti-government attitudes.

    As for the presidency, it's always hard to win with a narrow base strategy, though GW pulled it off in 2004. I'm also cautious about drawing large political conclusions about presidential races because they're so personality driven. If Romney was more charismatic and Obama was less charismatic, I have little down that it would have gone the other way.

    By contrast, if you look at local, state, and congressional elections, which offer many more data points, it's hard to conclude that Republicans have alienated the majority of voters by veering too far to the right. Perhaps you're right that this time they've finally gone too far, but I've yet to hear any argument for that prediction that differentiates from all the previous failed predictions.

    The GOP operates by gerrymandering and voter suppression. For local elections, it doesn't matter what the majority of voters in a state want. The GOP makes sure that rural, a Conservative voters prevail. In the last election cycle there were situations where Democrats as a group had more votes than Republicans in some stes, but Democrats did not win seats.

    Voters of all stripes wanted background checks, the NRA did not want background checks. The Republicans blocked changes in gun laws and face no voter pushback because the Republicans are in protected districts. Voters want immigration reform, but the Tea Party does not. Republicans will obstruct any move to address immigration. They will not lose seats.

    And how did Republicans get the power to gerrymander districts and restrict voting rights? They won majorities in the states. In fact, they won majorities in states that had previously been gerrymandered to favor Democrats.

    We should fight Republican efforts disenfranchise voters of course, but we should not fall for the self-indulgent fantasy that conservatives are inherently unpopular and only win elections by cheating.


    Republicans have been able to boil things down to simple soundbites like"tax and spend" or "redistribution of wealth" while Democrats are using paragraphs to explain their plans.

    They won majorities in states some time ago, and thanks to gerrymandering are holding onto faux majorities. For example, in my state (Virginia), more voters voted for Democratic congress-critters than Republican congress-critters in 2012, and yet 8 out of 11 Congressional races went to Republicans! Similarly, on a state level, more voters voted for Democratic delegates (our state-level equivalent of congress-critters), and yet, 75 out of 100 delegate races went to Republicans, making it so that this cycle of farce can continue.

    This is yet another reason why I'm suspicious of the claim that we're generally moving to the right. Call it unfettered optimism if you like, but I do feel like the demographics will eventually cause a rather significant tide change.

    By "some time ago," do you mean 2010?

    Republicans picked up at least 675 state legislative seats Nov. 2. As with the increases in the House, that gain is the biggest any party has made in state legislative seats since 1938 and is far larger than the GOP's tally in its 1994 landslide...Before the midterm elections, Democrats controlled 27 state legislatures outright. Republicans were in charge in 14 states, and eight states were split. (Nebraska, which has a single legislative chamber, is officially nonpartisan). Today, Republicans control 26 state legislatures, Democrats 17, and five have split control. In New York, officials are still determining who is in charge in the state Senate. Republicans control seven more legislatures outright than they did after 1994 and the most since 1952.

    That was two years after the Democratic landslide of 2008, which allegedly proved that Republicans were too right-wing for American voters. Too bad those Tea Partiers didn't listen to the pundits.

    But don't worry, the 2014 forecast is bright and sunny.

    Partly, but I suspect you'll find that many of those seats were picked up because of gerrymandering success. Granted, this is an unverified hypothesis.

    Your hypothesis is not just unverified, Verified. It defies logic. Republicans took over 12 state legislatures in 2010, nearly doubling their total. Most of the flipped districts in those states were very likely gerrymandered--in favor of Democrats who had previously controlled those legislatures.

    Harumph. Well, I went looking for some numbers, and it turns out that you're right. I refuse to give up my optimism, though.

    I am optimistic and will stay there.  We both are in states that have been pushing back hard and have made some head way against the 2010 wave. 

    Optimism is an excuse for complacency.

    Thus Spake Genghis, 2014

    The shit will get stinkier before it gets less stinky.

    The Cambridge Companion to Genghis, 2015 (pre-publication)


    Optimism may be used as an excuse for complacency, but pessimism can equally be used as an excuse for despair. I think it depends a lot on the psyche of the person involved (i.e., YMMV), but personally I find myself far more likely to suffer from despair than from complacency.

      If pessimism is the right world view, then there isn't much point in political activism. If everything is crap and always will be, why bother?

    I was just teasing, mostly, but I do believe that many Democrats suffer from a stay-the-course form of optimism. Some say we just need to wait for the "fever"  to break, as Obama put it. Same claim that the Tea Partiers have finally overreached. Some wait for Millennials and Latinos to come riding to the rescue.

    But I believe that Democrats need to face the reality that their policies and tactics are not attracting enough voters to accomplish anything. Yes, we will sometimes win the White House--just as Republicans sometimes won the White House during their mid-twentieth century slump--but winning the White House is not enough. Other than ACA, what historic progressive legislation has the government enacted in the last two decades? What, at this rate, will it enact in the next two?

    PS Pessimism can also be paralyzing, but I'm not suggesting that the cause is hopeless, just that the cause requires an overhaul.

    Cantor must regret all those millions he raised for Tea Party tyros since the financial crisis...

    I'm with Mike on this. I had some enjoyable schaenfreude over breakfast, but this is bad for the country. We're now more than two steps closer to defaulting in the national debt.

    The  piece we're not talking about is the Democratic candidate. He's stuck in a deep-red district, he has no money, and he's not necessarily a world-beater. Frankly, and with all due respect to him, he looks like the candidate you recruit to run against an unbeatable candidate in a tough election cycle. He's mostly been running to show the flag.

    But now he's facing a beatable candidate, and he's got the football. It's still a tough situation: that district tilts Republican. But it's time for the party, the PACs, and the outside donors (hint, hint) to show Jack Trammell some love.

    From CNN

    Trammell is not your average politician. He works a small family farm, where he lives with his wife and seven children. He teaches disability studies and is director of Disability Support Services at Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts school outside Richmond that has just over 1,000 students.

    The 7th District is very conservative, with the Cook Political Report maintaining its political rating as solid Republican. But with two political novice college professors running against each other, anything could be possible.

    Don't know about the beatable candidate thing.

    The T Party guy strikes me as pretty smart. Princeton grad. Econ professor. Obviously had some political savvy to knock off Cantor.

    I didn't say hopeless. I didn't even say weak. I said "beatable." As in, one could possibly beat this guy if one campaigns well and has some good luck.

    Trammell will actually have to go out and beat him. But it's not like running against the sitting Majority Leader in his home district.


    Yes. I wasn't following this too closely, assuming like everyone (I think) that Cantor would win walking away. Folks were saying that on the radio the day before.

    Of course, there may have been many stories showing an anti-Cantor trend, but assuming not, it's interesting that the media completely missed this story. And it wasn't even a squeaker.

    I mean, it's not news that the media often get things very wrong, but still, this is a district, not a state and not the country. Anyone who had this district within his beat should've been able to see this coming.

    Brat's most effective tactic seems to have been painting Cantor as wishy-washy on immigration reform. Presumably, he had two proposals, one fer, the other agin'.

    I don't think it was political savvy. I doubt he expected to win even as he went to the polls to vote. I don't even think he won. It looks to me that Cantor lost. I suspect that for some reason the voters decided that Daffy Duck would be better than Cantor and voted against him. As I read about, mostly ignored until now, Brat its beginning to seem they did in fact, unknowingly and in complete ignorance, vote for Daffy Duck. I'm not saying that its not possible for Daffy Duck to win in a heavily republican district in the general election.

    Now that they have sobered up a little, they are realizing what they gave up and may face some buyers remorse. The fact that this district isn't too far from the lazy beltway media, they will be sticking a mic and camera in his face often.  They just might get a strong dose of the crazy.

    When the press before the election was writing that the only question was how large Cantor's margin of victory would be there was likely little in depth press attention and investigation of Brat. He was likely not well known in depth even in his district.  Well he's famous now. I agree, there'll be a mic and camera in face constantly from now until the general. I doubt he'll handle it well. It wouldn't be the first time the crazy won in a republican district, but it wouldn't be the first time the crazy lost to a democrat in a republican district either.

    He went to Princeton Theology School.  It has nothing to do with Princeton U.  It is a Presbyterian Divinity School with a MS degree. He went to Hope College for his BA and that is a Calvinist School.  He got his Econ PhD from American U that was once considered a heterodox economics school.  He is way outside the main stream in education.  

    Turns out, both guys are profs at Randolph-Macon which is pretty well known here in Virginia, though not outside the state.

    I guess I was mostly saying that I wouldn't count on his being another O'Donnell, Mourdock, or Akin. Could be, but I wouldn't bet on his imploding.

    We'll see.

    Re the "Princeton grad":  over at TPM Josh addressed the fact that Brat's Masters degree is from Princeton Theological Seminary; not Princeton University, as Brat claims. The two are near each other, and PU students occasionally take classes at the seminary, but a degree from PTS does not have the same gravitas as a degree from PU because it simply isn't the same University. 

    I don't think many people realize that Trammell was just picked at a local Democratic Convention this past weekend.  I think he got the word on Monday. He is just getting his campaign started.  As of last night he had a face book page and now his web page.  I give him credit for being willing to parachute in like that.  I don't care how red a district is we always need to run a democrat.  I am with Howard Dean on this.  It helps builds a larger Democrat voter base.  I read his profile from were he teaches and he isn't a bad choice. He is also well liked by his students.  Bart at the same college is not as well liked. 

    I watched Debbie WS's statement last night and the DCCC is going to be there for him.  I looked at what Bart has published in his teaching career and he is way out there on the right with the Kochs.  We will have to see how it plays out.  All politics is local and they decided they didn't like Cantor probably for many reasons.  Cantor lost because of himself.  He was a jerk.  It was also an open primary.  

    I am not going to read much into this Nationally.  We already know the GOP is in disarray with the take over of the well financed Libertarians.  The GOP southern strategy could be coming back to bite them in the butt. 

    My little part of the country has been trending to the left. I don't see it lurching to the right.  

    I enjoyed seeing Cantor fall, it made my day.  Sure it could get a little worse because of it but we still have to make it through this summer's and fall.  Things happen and people react to it.  


    You know, I do see a bright side here beyond Cantorfreude. Setting aside the "he's a crazy person" part, we at least know that a well-heeled incumbent can be beaten.

    Yup,  Money could not save him from the fact that he promised stuff like getting rid of the President and ACA then didn't deliver.  What I enjoy about it is that Cantor's campaign didn't see it coming.  He was still poling last week in the double digits, though it had tightened. I am just wondering about what happen that brought this collapse.  

    Agreed. Campaign finance is overrated.

    I am having a lot of doubt about all of this.

    I mean the House has already passed 50? bills to abolish Obamacare.

    To what end?

    And now, assuming more TPers get elected, does that mean that they will pass 150 more such legislation?

    And the TPers wish to impeach President Obama?

    Good luck getting 67 Senators to go along with a Bill of Impeachment.

    I suppose there will be a greater chance of a government shut down over the next 2 or three years.

    No cooperation ever is probably the new GOP's standard.

    You are not alone in your weariness. The country is worn out from all of this non cooperation.  

    Thanks for the links.  It shows how the GOP is loosing ground on their major issues, or at least were the country is changing and moving on. 

    One of the problems as I see it is, the people who say let them get crazier and crazier and they'll never win another national election miss the point that if they get enough crazies (a veto-proof majority) it won't matter. A Democratic President with a veto-proof majority of crazies in each house may as well stay home.


    Hell, even a simple majority in one branch of Congress can render a president impotent. Or hasn't anyone noticed?

    I am not sure but this imaginary angel of mine says I aint so loveable lately. 


    One of the things I find intriguing about Professor Brat is that he is a Roman Catholic with a Divinity degree from a Presbyterian seminary and teaches at a private Methodist University.surprise

    Another is that he declined an audience with Grover Norquist to teach his scheduled classes.

    Then there is his position as BB&T Ethics Program Director. Hmmm. 

    I hope someone will post his published papers online soon. I would very much like to read them:

    Dave Brat - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


    Yeah well, this bastard aint gonna spend much time conversing with a man who is married to a Muslim!

    the end

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