Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Unusual alliances and surprises abound in what passes for politics today

The title of this commentary is news to no one.  Recent events have made it all the more obvious.

One alliance over the last few years has been the commonality between some tea party members and liberal Democrats on certain issues.  While their differences are more than wide on most issues, when it comes to a "populist" interpretation of economics, they often arrive at the same conclusion despite having different rationales, if there is any explainable rationale at all on the part of some of the tea party folks.  They agree that big banks and big corporations are exploiting the regular people of this country in an almost criminal way.  This coming together of these two disparate groups makes any consensus on any economic issue in the House of Representatives almost impossible.

Another alliance of until recently unimaginable magnitude was the one that led the long standing Senator from Mississippi, Thad Cochran, to winning his Republican primary against a much younger State Senator, Chris McDaniel, who was clearly a tea party type.  At 76 Cochran ran what the NYT referred to as a "languid" campaign until the last few weeks, when he decided to reach out to traditional Democrats and Black voters as someone who would represent their interests better than McDaniel, who until the last week had advocated substantially cutting state education spending as a way of managing the state budget more prudently.  Extrapolating that thought to the national stage was not attractive to some Democrats and many blacks and Cochran won an election that had seemed to be "in the bag" to many of the 41 year old McDaniel supporters.  As an example of the nature of the upset and rejection of some tea party ideas, in one recent Senatorial election Cochran received just 2% of Democratic votes in the state.

The upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was another stunner.  Up until less than a month ago his own obviously out of touch advisers and pollsters had told him that his lead was up to 30%.  After seven terms in Congress and national recognition as House Majority Leader, Cantor seemed to be a shoe in.  It was not to be.  An almost unknown tea party devotee and college professor at Randolph Macon University, David Brat, trounced Cantor, 54% to 46%, in the seventh district of Virginia that Cantor assumed he owned.

In "House of Cards" there is one sequence of Frank Underwood visiting his South Carolina home district and in the most neighborly fashion visiting constituents, making speeches to small groups, and joining in at larger traditional county gatherings.  He made the point of saying to one of his assistants that one can never lose touch with their home district.  That's the basis of the whole deal.  In D.C., we all know Underwood as the relentlessly manipulative politician who is a master of deception.  Cantor obviously did not get the fictional Underwood's message as he relentlessly postured to unseat John Boehner as Speaker of the House and looked for every opportunity for media exposure.

As a home grown Virginian myself, I know well that it is a conservative state turning partially blue as Northern Virginia grows exponentially.  As a culture, however, Virginia is generally a polite state and one that does not especially like flamboyance, arrogance, or excessive self promotion.  Cantor struck out on all counts(I am not suggesting that these are necessarily the real personal characteristics of Cantor, but they are definitely the image he projected nationally, and by definition to Virginia and his home district).  Brat beat him with basically one issue, and that was his constant ranting about Cantor being weak on immigration restrictions.

Cantor was by no means a leader of immigration reform, but because he understood the needs of business and the value of law abiding tax paying immigrants, he was villified by Brat as chronically weak and dangerous on the issue, and the xenophobic nature of old style Virginians was apparently swayed by that argument, swayed as Cantor acted as if the election was rightfully his and did not require major first hand campaigning.

Much of the national business community is aghast at Cantor's defeat, but he could have made a much better effort on the campaign trail and by presenting a more humble way of behaving.  Cantor defeated himself.

It seems that there will be many more primaries and elections this year that have unusual twists and turns, as the two major political parties have no compelling leaders and as unrestricted contributions flow into every corner of the country.       


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