“You come at the King… you best not miss”– Omar Little
If Randolph Macon economics professor Dave Brat isn’t a fan of The Wire, he was at least wise enough to heed the advice of one of the show’s oft-most quoted characters. Brat set his sights on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary showdown and he won. Cantor, whom many inside the Beltway expected to be the next Speaker of the House, never thought he would lose to a primary challenger, yet he did. But once the shock of the second highest-ranking member of the House wore off, the public was left wondering: who is Dave Brat?
Brat is not only an economics professor he is a former advisor to Virginia state Senator Walter Stotch, and holds a Ph.D from American University. He was able to take down Mr. Cantor because he was able to show the people of Virginia’s 7th District that Majority Leader Cantor hadn’t done enough to stand against President Obama’s agenda. Cantor was painted as offering undocumented residents amnesty, as well as being (at the least) a tacit supporter of the Affordable Care Act. This conservative pushback came despite Cantor receiving a score of 95% from the American Conservative Union. In many ways, although the language of the Brat campaign had much to do with dumbing the incumbent, the tone and rhetoric of his run for office was decidedly anti-Obama.
There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with the president, but what remains interesting is how President Obama is regularly being used as a dog whistle in politics. But for Brat to use the POTUS to “primary” the House Majority Leader is bold, audacious and tells us a lot of what conservative voters feel about the President. Brat had pictures on his website of Cantor conversing with the president, suggesting that even talking to President Obama is problematic. What’s more interesting is the picture is under a header that says “Reforming Washington.” As if bi-partisan conversation is the problem with the federal government.
The interesting thing is that, with the exception of being to the hard right of Cantor on the Affordable Care Act and Immigration Reform, Brat is a straight line conservative. He feels the free-market will solve the nation’s problems. He’s a devout catholic who feels the nation needs to have a Judeo-Christian moral center, and on his own website claimed the best way to peace was “through a strong national defense” (read: more war). None of the rhetoric is that different from establishment the establishment GOP, so what was it that lead voters to Brat as opposed to Cantor? We come back to President Obama. Cantor’s position on the President’s initiatives and ideas were seemingly not far right enough for voters in their district. So it seems we are getting a rehash of 2010 where Tea-Partiers were obstructionists to the President and Congressional progress.
Congratulations, Mr. Brat, you have taken down, if not the king, one of the king’s men. But in the process did you just drive another nail into any hope your party may have had for 2016? Only time will tell. But Brat will likely need to change his tune on immigration if the Right is to rise again.