Thursday, June 12, 2014

U.S. House Majority Leader Cantor’s Election Loss: On the Corporate Connection

It is not every day that the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives loses—and badly at that—to a primary challenger in an intra-party contest. In the wake of Jim Cantor’s defeat in June, 2014, journalists wasted no time in reducing the defeat to one issue: immigration. Such a reductionist ex-post facto divination of voter intent—as if an electorate were one monolithic mind writ large—is fraught with difficulties. Beyond the sheer artifice, such an interpretation offers an easy cover for less convenient, subterranean political shifts underway and expressed in the vote.

Leaping to the immigration rationale whereby arch-conservative, or “Tea-Party” Republican voters punished Cantor for having been willing to work with Democrats on a compromise involving amnesty in some form, Ali Noorani of an immigration lobbyist group opined that the primary’s result would make it tougher to get a bill through the U.S. House in the current session.[1] Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, “said Cantor’s loss blows up a last-minute attempt by Republicans to organize support for an immigration bill.”[2] No doubt both Noorani and Sharry were going off media reports as early as election night that immigration reform had brought the majority leader down.

To be sure, more elaborate analyses, such as one by The Washington Post, broadened the explanation to include Cantor’s votes in general and his lack of attention to his district.[3] Preoccupied with gaining power over his colleagues by raising money, Cantor missed the warning signs, and this alone could have annoyed Republican voters back home. Additionally, as put by Jamie Radtke, co-founder of the Virginia Tea Party, Cantor had “made an enemy of his friends.”[4] Put another way, pundits wanting to extrapolate the primary results onto the national stage may be overlooking the idiosyncratic elements that do not generalize or go forward.

For all the points needlessly cut off by the reductionism to immigration or even Cantor’s willingness to compromise with Democrats, the most important received scarcely any media coverage. Specifically, interviews with some voters suggest that Cantor lost in part because he had done the bidding of big business at the expense of the small businesses in Richmond. Stung by bailouts without strings to the large Wall Street banks that had dangerously over-leveraged themselves on risky mortgage-backed securities and a dearth of prosecutions on fraud, Republican voters could not have missed the apparent collusion between corporate and campaign coffers; Cantor had raised nearly $5.5 million to have a 27-to-1 financial advantage over his challenger.[5] As astonishing as Dave Brat’s win is, given this financial disparity, the real lesson from the primary may be that elected officials willing to cut the financial strings to corporate America may actually do better at home because the positions and votes would be more closely tailored to the constituents.

Put another way, voters may be hungry for political courage that shakes the conventional “wisdom.” Teddy Roosevelt must have discovered as much when he went after the mighty trusts like Standard Oil in the early twentieth century, and Andrew Jackson nearly a century earlier when he refused to fund the Second Bank of the United States for fear of encroaching federal power. This is a message that the powers that be in 2014 doubtless would not want getting out, and the media dutifully complied with the subterfuge of immigration reform being in all probability dead for the time being.

[1] Alan Gomez, “Immigration Bill Looks Doubtful,” USA Today, June 12, 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] David Fahrenthold, Rosalind Helderman, and Jenna Portnoy, “What Went Wrong for Eric Cantor?The Washington Post, June 12, 2014.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Susan Davis And Catalina Camia, “Contests Loom for Top GOP Posts,” USA Today, June 12, 2014.