The defeat of Eric Cantor – GOP House majority leader and a leading light of the party’s neoconservative-corporatist wing – has the pundits in an uproar. They are flummoxed: what could have led to one of the biggest upsets in American political history? After all, a party majority leader hasn’t been defeated – let alone in a primary! – since 1877. And who is this guy, Dave Brat, anyway – who raised around $200,000 total, but only spent half of it, while Cantor – the Chamber of Commerce’s best friend – raised and spent millions?
They settled on a neat little narrative early on: the election was all about immigration, they told us, and Brat is a "Tea Party" politician with "nativist" tendencies. That explanation, however, soon fell apart when it was revealed that the Tea Party groups had done exactly nothing to help Brat: indeed the leader of Tea Party Patriots, one of the biggest national groups, wouldn’t even take his phone calls.
Furthermore, it turned out Brat had campaigned not only or even primarily on the immigration issue – which only came up in the last few days of the campaign – but on what he called "crony capitalism," hitting Cantor over and over again on his subservience to corporate interests. And it wasn’t the typical left-wing egalitarian demagogy that condemns any successful business for not putting "people before profits," as the old Communist Party USA slogan puts it. Brat was steamed that businessmen were going to Washington asking for special favors – subsidies – in order to boost (or maintain) their profit margins, and Cantor was a major cog in their political machine.
As news of Brat’s stunning upset made headlines, Boeing’s stock fell on fears the Export-Import Bank – a major source of federal handouts to the corporate sector – might not be reauthorized. A few liberal commentators, such as Ryan Lizza over at The New Yorker and John Nichols of The Nation, got this much right: but there’s much more to it than that.
A trip to Brat’s modest campaign web site tells a good part of the story. Here he is on the National Security Agency’s spying on Americans:
"Dave believes that the Constitution does not need to be compromised for matters of national security. He supports the end of bulk phone and email data collection by the NSA, IRS, or any other branch of government."