Success can test one’s mettle as surely as the strongest adversary. – From “Conan The Barbarian”
So The Tea Party is dead. Its candidates are “outside the mainstream”, “unelectable” and, heaven forefend; “extreme.” At this juncture I have an image of Inigo Montoya. “You use this word ‘extreme.’ I do not think you know what it means.” That may be a statement both fair and accurate. Extreme means different things depending upon your measure of central tendency.
Therein lies a tale of Darwinistic Naturalism that featured an out-of-touch, Congressional Representative of K-Street and the Chamber of Oleaginous Oligopoly getting eaten by the Tea Party Cheetah because he forgot that his original herd included average, honorable work-a-day Americans. The Congressional Representative of K-Street was Eric Cantor; the Tea Party Cheetah was Randolph Macon Economics Professor David Brat. The Serengeti Plain was last night’s GOP Primary. Arrivederci Mr. Cantor, bon appétit Dr. Brat.
To Eric Cantor, “extreme” meant the type of person who wasn’t in the Old Boys Network. If the Aristocracy of Pull did not know an individual; what he thought or believed hadn’t been vetted by peer review. It could be the sort of thing that rocked the boat or upset the apple-cart. Like the person not invited to the proper Hollywood after-parties, a person expressing views not endorsed a priori by a made-man in the GOP establishment wasn’t reliable. Therefore, they were “outside the mainstream” or “extreme.”
To people who don’t have an in with the doorman at the elite club where the beautiful ones throw down their Mai-Tais, “extreme” means something entirely different. Extremists are people who willingly do and believe things that make life more difficult for a simple citizen to earn an honorable day’s wages. “Outside-the-mainstream” people are the ones who cut a bunch of corners to unfairly rig the game in favor of their buddies. “Unelectable” politicians are ones who wouldn’t condescend to understand their impact on citizens' lives if someone put a loaded revolver against their temple. The ones the average American considers “extreme” are the type of people who think that hiring Brad Dayspring is a savvy piece of inside baseball.
Eric Cantor got eaten by the cheetah last night because he bought into the wrong definition of extreme. When trusted connections in The Chamber of Commerce told Congressman Cantor that loosening immigration standards was good, that became conventional wisdom. When the Tea Party told Congressman Cantor they hated that idea, he considered them unreliable Johnie-Come-Lately radicals. During the primary campaign, Cantor called David Brat a college professor in the most unflattering way possible. Ironically, Eric Cantor was the guy who didn’t know how the real game got played. Cantor chose his connections over the people. It was a fatal decision. Virginia GOP veteran, Zachary Werrell, explains the dynamic that played out below.
“You have a very disliked incumbent, and you have a very likable candidate, and you tell the truth,” Werrell said. “And when your opponent spends millions of dollars being extremely negative and aggressive, that backfires — bad. It was kind of a perfect storm.”
The issue environment probably put Brat over the top. Cantor helped make the current disaster playing out on America’s Southern border possible. He pushed for exactly the unlawful policies that President Barack Obama currently champions. Like the challenger typically has to, Brat campaigned on dissatisfaction with the status quo. The immigration issue became a proxy for the general sense that Eric Cantor no longer cared what happened to the average worker in his Congressional District. Another GOP insider celebrated this aspect of Brat’s improbable victory.
"Cantor lost because he represented corporations pushing for foreign workers, and Dave Brat was courageous enough to stand for American workers," wrote one anti-Gang of Eight Hill aide. "Brat proved you can beat the corporate open borders money with his campaign message: 'A vote for Cantor is a vote for open borders and lower wages.' "
I’ll admit to grinding an axe against the position Former Congressman Cantor held on immigration. However, I believe the quote above does not do adequate justice to why Eric Cantor’s political career now looks like bread left too long in a heated toaster oven. It needs to be expanded and can be expanded a long way without loss of generality. Here’s how I’d fix it up.
”Cantor lost because he represented a professional political class who believed the people they represented were vassals instead of voters. David Brat was humble enough to remember he was running to be an elected representative; not the holder of a feudal title. Brat proved you beat K-Street with the message of ‘A vote for Cantor was a vote for Post-modern Feudalism.'
And that gives us an indication of why the Tea Party isn't quite as dead as the political professionals all wish them to be. Pace Darwin, they survive by adapting to their environment and occupying a biological niche. When GOP leaders get too full of themselves, too Cochran-like in their moral and intellectual lethargy, they stray from the voting herd and drink too deeply of the firewater of K-Street. At that point they are deracinated and isolated from the wellspring of their original support. Without the power base, a GOP insider becomes a lone, slow wildebeest vulnerable on the Serengeti Plain. It becomes time for the predator to keep the balance. Bon appétit Dr. Brat.