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Weekend Commentary - Slaying Giants
Jun 13, 2014
Did we witnesses a David and Goliath story this past week? Or maybe it would be more akin to the ancient Norse and Germanic mythology, where the somewhat naïve hero emerges to do battle with the Giants who guard the gold and against all odds emerges triumphant. Alright, it is probably not that epic, but, it is notable that, in their Virginia primary this past week, a virtually unknown candidate, Professor David Brat, toppled Eric Cantor, the second ranking Republican in Congress and rising star/power broker. Making it even more interesting is the fact that Mr. Brat won by a double-digit margin, 11%, and was outspent by a 40 to 1 margin. Many have cynically pointed out that Mr. Cantor spent more money in three different Virginia restaurants for fundraising events, estimated at $168,000, than did Mr. Brat for his entire campaign, at $122,000. We have been led to believe that it will always be the candidate with the largest treasure chest who will wear the crown, and for good reason. So what was different?
While I certainly cannot profess to know the answer to that question, you can be assured that political think tanks, advisors and national organizations have been debating this outcome ever since the results were announced, and some of the responses have been almost comical. The most seemingly outlandish came from a paid pollster who blamed it on excessive voter turnout. It appears that in the 2012 primary for this seat, 46,000 voters turned out; this year there were 65,000 who cast ballots. According to their analysis, these additional people must have been democrats intent on pushing Cantor from office. This theory would be akin to the famous "vast republican conspiracy" that Hillary Clinton referred to when her husband was president, only in reverse. As you might suspect this particular pollster missed the outcome rather badly and was looking for a scapegoat. Other explanations sound more feasible, such as voters in Mr. Cantor’s conservative district felt that the longer he had been in Washington, the closer he was sliding towards the dreadful middle and he had to be taught a lesson. Others blamed it on the fact that he was actually willing to discuss immigration reform and was aligning with the group that has labels itself as "reform conservatives", who are more interested in working in and with the system than burning it to the ground. Finally, there are those who feel that Mr. Cantor’s tight relationship with the financial community alienated him from the middle class voter, who perceived that he was only looking out for big money and big business to line his campaign coffers. Note that the Securities industry and large banks have become one of Cantor’s largest donor bases.
With the exception of the "vast democratic conspiracy" theory, I suspect the other explanations, and I am sure several more that I missed, are all reasons for this upset. That is not to take away from what I understand was a straightforward Libertarian message delivered by Mr. Brat, proposing less government, flat tax reform and letting free market principles be the guide. That is a message that resounds for many conservatives, at least until the reforms impact them negatively.
That said, it would be great if this upset, as well at the run-off that was forced in Mississippi with Thad Cochran, were a sign of a fledging groundswell of discontented voters, finally fed up with the status quo and not going to take it anymore. I may be wrong, but I do not believe it will be quite that monumental. Mr. Cantor has been sent to Washington seven times now and it would appear that people in his district believed that he was no longer in touch with their needs and this was the most effective way to let him know that. Kudos to those voters, we need more people involved in the voting process, not an apathetic resignation that nothing can be done. It would seem though that we could still be looking at a real battle for what will represent the heart and soul of the GOP and it makes the entire political landscape a lot more interesting. Against all odds, David can still defeat Goliath.