So who is the real Rep. David Brat (R-VA)?
Is he a Randian Tea Partier, the scourge of RINOs, bent on taking the Republican Party further to the right?
Or is he a populist crusader, determined to defend the middle class against all its enemies and predators, wherever they might lurk?
Which is he?
If Brat is the former, a “movement” champion and nothing more, then he will quickly be reminded that his come-from-nowhere primary election victory over Eric Cantor–winning 55 percent of 66,008 votes cast in the Virginia 7 primary election–doesn’t mean very much outside of the Republican Party.
Yes, Brat’s upset victory has shaken the GOP Establishment to its core, and that cheers conservative activists. Yet partisan Democrats are far from disconsolate, because they are sure that Tea Partyism can’t win statewide, let alone nationwide. The Old Dominion, after all, is now purplish, bleeding over to blue. Indeed, Barack Obama carried it twice, garnering 1.9 million votes in 2012, more than 50 times Brat’s total on Tuesday. And Democrats, meanwhile, control all of Virginia’s statewide offices, including the two US Senate seats.
So if Brat wants to be a Tea Party guy, and nothing more, he can push the GOP to the right–and nothing more. After all, in ideological terms, the country is moving to the left. The bubbled and busted middle class might be angry about Obamacare, but, in the end, they are more fearful of losing their homes and jobs; the GOP has yet to overcome its perceptual fixation with “job creators,” as opposed to job holders.
In other words, it will take an outspoken 2016 presidential nominee, at least, to overcome the 2012-ish feeling that the GOP is dominated by tax-shelter-benefiting plutocrats, who preach job creation, even as they practice job destruction.
Indeed, we must remember that Mitt Romney’s $102 million IRA sent an unmistakable signal: The rich should pay taxes at a lower rate than working stiffs. Romney didn’t just defend such tax-gaming, he touted it as one of his political virtues. And Eric Cantor, of course, has been a staunch defender of the “carried interest” loophole that further engorged the likes of Romney.
Yes, one can make a principled argument about the economic value of a carve-out for capital gains; one can make a principled argument about a lot of things. But politically, in a general election, it’s indefensible to have the rich paying less than the rest of us.
On the other hand, if Brat is in the latter category–if he is populist crusader, not an apologist for tycoons–well, that’s a hopeful sign for the Party. If he is a true champion of the middle class and its larger interests, then he could, indeed, become an important transformational force in America. After all, the country is plenty angry; confidence in institutions is at a record low. Not only is faith in the presidency low, but faith in banks and big business–and Congress–is even lower.
Nobody in public life has figured out how to deal with this problem, and yet most voters don’t agree that severely shrinking the government is the answer–if that means chopping earned entitlements, such as Social Security, and simply turning more power over to, say, GE, Goldman Sachs, and Google.
So what should Brat do? How could he establish himself as a hero of Main Street?
He can start, of course, by following through on his signature cause: immigration controls, and no amnesty. Immigration is an issue that unites working people across the ideological spectrum because it gets to the heart of the middle class and the protection of its wages. Increasingly, the middle class has figured out this economic reality, even as it’s increasingly obvious that the elites don’t care.
This economic reality is true in the US, and it’s also true in Europe. The recent European elections show just how the immigration issue has chopped through old party alliances. Blue-collar workers, traditionally on the left, have woken up to discover that the elites in the left-leaning parties are perfectly willing–eager, in fact–to sell them out for the sake of the European Union. And at the same time, the slightly-upper-middle class, the traditional base of the right-leaning parties, has also figured out that their elites–here’s looking at you, UK Prime Minister David Cameron–are happy to submerge patriotism and national identity into the European superstate, if that helps corporate profits.
In fact, the EU has always been the beloved joint creation of these two forces: first, the post-nationalist globalists on the left, and second, the post-nationalist capitalists on the right. That’s why the elite left and the elite right are both in favor of open borders. And that’s why the non-elite left and non-elite right, having finally woken up, are against open borders.
With the EU experience in mind, we can return to American politics.
Who doubts for a second, for example, that a President Mitt Romney would have happily signed “comprehensive immigration reform” in 2013? Yes, the Mitt who gave Massachusetts Romneycare would have happily given us “Romnesty.”
And Eric Cantor, in Brat’s depiction, was clearly in the Romney mold. As the challenger said:
Cantor continues to work with multinational corporations to boost the inflow of low-wage guest workers to reduce Virginians’ wages and employment opportunities.
Indeed, the Brat campaign put out a picture, showing Cantor arm-in-arm with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg–a leading bankroller of the amnesty campaign–and then added this damning text:
There are 20 million Americans who can’t find a full-time job. But Eric Cantor wants to give corporations another 20 million foreign workers to hire instead.
And as Brat said just before the election:
A vote for Eric Cantor on June 10th is a vote for open borders and lower wages.
Pow! Pow! Pow!
So what will Brat do now? And what will the House Republicans do now?
One thing we know for sure: The pro-open-borders corporate elite has no intention of giving up. In the wake of the VA 7 election, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein reiterated his support for “immigration reform.” In other words, Wall Street needs more maids, greens keepers, and hookers.
And speaking for the larger worldview of the Master-of-the Universe class, top investor Ken Fisher discounted Cantor’s importance. As he explained, showing all the warmth of a spreadsheet, “A basic lesson of markets is that all politicians are replaceable instantly, except the President who is replaceable almost instantly.” And so, Fisher continued, Cantor will be forgotten in no time–even if, as we can surmise, the soon-to-be-ex-Congressman will do quite well on K Street.
So if that’s the way Wall Streeters think, then no doubt they figure they can simply find another Cantor. And maybe, as Breitbart News has reported, they can–maybe lots of them.
During his campaign, Brat deftly put Wall Street and K Street in the same crony-capitalist pot. Speaking to the Mechanicsville, VA, Tea Party, he recalled the notorious 2008 financial meltdown:
The crooks up on Wall Street and some of the big banks… they didn’t go to jail–they are on Eric’s rolodex.
Can Brat keep that up? Will he keep faith with his voters? What will he say when, for example, the Financial Services Roundtable calls up and offers to do a fundraiser for him? It was not so long ago that Minnesota GOP governor Tim Pawlenty sought to be a populist champion, claiming he was the Sam’s Club Republican, not the country club Republican.
Well, now, lo and behold, former governor Pawlenty is the CEO of the FSR, where he reports to such such distinctly non-populist outfits as Fidelity, MasterCard, and Sun Trust. His annual salary is a reported $1.8 million.
Yet let’s be optimists. Let’s hope that Brat is sincere.
If he is, then the GOP does indeed have a brighter future. After all, as conservative pundit Rich Lowry put it, Republicans have to reconnect to the middle class:
If the GOP is ever going to become identified as the pro-worker party again, it must oppose flooding the labor market with new, wage-suppressing foreign labor at the behest of business interests.
Lowry is right, just as Brat is right. But now the question: What else is Brat for? What’s the rest of his agenda for the middle class?
We’ll take up those questions in Part 2.