Behind every political upheaval is a mix of the momentous and the mundane. The fall of Eric Cantor is no exception.
On the mundane side is a congressman who lost touch with his district. It turns out that listening to constituents was low on Congressman Cantor’s list of priorities. Many Virginia 7th voters have been quoted in the last 24 hours complaining that they barely ever saw him.
Out of touch is a particular problem if, as happened with Cantor, a good deal of your district is new to you, as of the last redistricting. Cantor allies in the Virginia legislature thought they were doing him a favor, making his district even more secure from Democratic assault after the last census. But Cantor made little effort to introduce himself to his new constituents, leaving him even more vulnerable to criticism that he was lost to Washington.
On the momentous side, The New York Times made an effort to tag Cantor’s relatively restrictive position on immigration as too liberal for GOP voters – and immigration does appear to have played a role in the House Majority Leader’s defeat. But here, again, lack of touch with the district was no small part of the story.
For more than a year, the transnational criminal gang MS-13 has been making headlines in the Richmond region. Described by Wikipedia as “notorious for their use of violence and a subcultural moral code that predominantly consists of merciless revenge and cruel retributions,” the gang’s presence in any community should be enough to make even staunch liberals think twice about the security of our borders. Cantor seems to have been slow in picking up on this.
Still, I’m guessing that bigger than immigration was dismay expressed in his opponent David Brat’s statement that Wall Street high rollers nearly “broke the financial system.” Brat continued, “The guys should have gone to jail. Instead… they went into Eric Cantor’s Rolodex.”
Crony Capitalism, the collusion of Big Government and Big Business, including hybrids such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – anger and disgust over these has had a lot to do with the Tea Party uprisings all across the country. There is a sense that one has fueled the growth of the other, at the expense of limited government and our constitutional foundations. Republican officeholders as well as Democrats have played the insider game. It is not enough to tout conservative credentials and sentiments. Frustrated GOP voters are demanding to know what their representatives will do to reverse the tide.
This restlessness within the party is nothing new. As early as mid-2005 pollsters were picking up that a portion of the Bush vote of 2004 was becoming frustrated over rising domestic spending, the return of deficits after a period of surpluses and rising federal debt. They accepted the costs of the War on Terror but not discretionary spending at home or expansion of entitlements including Medicare Part D.
By 2006 many of these restless GOP voters were ready to stay home or vote Democrat, which they did again in 2008. The shock and awe spending of the Democratic Congress and president over next two years (particularly Obamacare and, to a lesser extent, Dodd-Frank) led to the 2010 GOP takeover of the House. But in 2012, Republicans put up a presidential candidate who failed to embrace an agenda of reform.
It turns out that the restlessness isn’t confined to the United States, either. A new book by Economist magazine editors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State argues that the Reagan-Thatcher government-downsizing revolutions of the 1980s were only partially successful. The editors turned authors argue that the time has come for a new version of the kind of radical reduction of government that Britain experienced in the second half of the 19th century, particularly under the leadership of William Gladstone. Prominent in that downsizing was jettisoning crony capitalist enterprises that had been central to the first phase of British imperialism.
Micklethwait and Wooldridge find the impulse to smaller, more limited and, at the same time, more competent government moving in Britain, other parts of Europe, India, and China, as well as the United States. The current model for the state has reached its limits, they say. Those nations that most effectively reform will have the brightest futures. “This revolution,” they conclude, “is about liberty and the rights of the individual. The West has been the world’s most creative region because it has repeatedly reinvented the state. We have every confidence that it can do it again, even in these difficult times.”
In their own way, that is what GOP voters in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District were up to on Tuesday.