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On the Importance of Sticks

They're better than carrots.

You’re probably not reading this website unless you were already aware that earlier this week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary to a guy almost no one had ever heard of, even among the subset of people who follow politics closely. A lot of ink has been spilled examining the reasons for Cantor’s defeat, whether it did or did not have to do with his position on immigration or any other issue, etc. etc. Many mainstream conservative pundits seem to have lamented that Eric Cantor was plenty darn conservative via the usual metrics for these things (ACU ratings, etc.), and that his defeat was unreasonable by these standards.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend to you that I’m informed enough on the dynamics of Virginia’s 7th Congressional District to be able to answer these questions intelligently. Nor am I certain the extent to which Cantor’s absence from his district and his campaign’s profligate spending habits may have hurt him in the eyes of the voters. Others are more well informed and qualified to opine on these topics. For me, they are not even tremendously relevant – I think that regardless of the particular issues at hand, Cantor’s loss was an almost unalloyed good for the country and the Republican party.

The reasons for that are very simple. In this country, Republicans face pressure from two extremely powerful forces to tack leftward once in office: swing voters and the media. In the absence of meaningful pressure to tack rightward, the longer any Republican is in office, the more they will tend to tack inexorably to the left. Recent history has shown that there is absolutely no substitute for actual fear of losing an election. As long as Republicans only fear losing to Democrats (as opposed to more conservative Republicans), then we are good and screwed as both a party and a country, and guaranteed to see debacles unfold like when the GOP controlled essentially the entire government from 2002-2006 and spent like drunken sailors and passed one horrible piece of legislation after another.

This is why these challenges to established members of Congress are so important. They may not always succeed, they may sometimes go down to ignominious failure, but every once in a while they will succeed, which is all to the good pour encourager les autres. And the fear of Tea Party challengers that is instilled in the entire flock is, for my money, worth the loss of the occasional sheep, especially where, as with Cantor, there is little or no chance that the Democrats will be able to capitalize.

The more I read about the Cantor campaign’s absurd and ridiculous spending habits, the more convinced I am of the great truth that there should be no such thing as a secure politician. Each and every single one of them ought to be forced to look constantly over their shoulder for fear of angry voters and retirement in ignominy. And it is all to the better if the person they are looking out for is a conservative newcomer to government and politics than to a corrupt Democrat or their accomplices in the media.

So congrats, Dave Brat, and many happy returns to upstarts just like you.

And by the way, don’t worry if Thad Cochran doesn’t even know that Cantor lost; he’ll find out soon enough.

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