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“The Tea Party Was Right About Eric Cantor”: His Job In Congress Was About Doing And Receiving Favors

When former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary, establishment Washington gasped and cried out with surprise. But when he took a job on Wall Street? No. Surprise. At. All.

Let’s think about this for a minute. It appears as though the establishment-types know Cantor pretty well. He’s got friends on Wall Street, and this is the natural course of events in the world of cronies and insiders. Republicans and Democrats have both availed themselves of the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington. No surprise, no big deal.

What insiders don’t know very well is outsiders. To insiders, the unnatural thing — the big deal — was an incumbent losing. Silly outsiders, a.k.a. voters! Didn’t they know that Wall Street and fancy Washington lobbyists just love this guy?

Oh, wait, yes, the silly voters did know. It’s one of the reasons they broke up with Mr. Cantor. He preferred the cool kids to his own constituents and they knew it, so they voted for someone else.

The Cantor-Goes-to-Wall-Street ending to the story was excruciatingly predictable, but it may have some unexpected outcomes in that it could encourage tea-party types to dig in deeper.

You see, when he accepted this job, Cantor proved that his constituents were right. He was out of touch with folks at home, but very much in touch with the rich and powerful in New York. Anyone who can land a job this lucrative in a field where they have zero experience must be getting the job for, ahem, different reasons. It’s about being friends, about doing and receiving favors. Voters understand this, and those who already think Wall Street and Washington are thick as thieves just got their best proof yet.

I suspect that Cantor’s friends inside the Beltway are very happy for him. They may even be thinking, “Good for Eric. The best revenge is living well!” They may secretly think that those silly voters in Virginia will be jealous of their former congressman’s new income, which will be 26 times bigger than their average household income.

But I doubt there is any jealousy at all. I’m guessing the feeling of those who voted against Cantor is more along the lines of: “Good. He’ll be much happier with his friends in New York City and downtown Washington than he was with us here in Virginia.”

The fruition of predictable events can be comforting, but it can also cement convictions. So for those Washingtonians who are toasting Cantor’s success this week, I have a word of caution: Your buddy Eric just proved to the anti-establishment, tea-party types that firing him was a good decision. Other members of Congress in the Cantor mold will not be well served by this. Perhaps that’s why Cantor waited until primary season was safely over before proving his constituents right.


By: Jean Card, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, September 4, 2014

September 5, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Tea Party, Wall Street | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, Eric Cantor Did Not Lose Because He’s Jewish”: There Were No Other Elephants In The Room

Eric Cantor’s primary defeat by David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, sent the pundits scurrying. Shocked and bewildered, they searched around for theories to makes sense of what they had not anticipated happening. Hundreds of articles were written and dozens of explanations were offered.

One of the more fascinating threads that emerged from the cacophony of ideas put forward in the days following the primary was the effort to find a Jewish dimension to the story. Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was the highest ranking Jewish lawmaker in American history, with aspirations to be Speaker of the House. When one adds to that the fact that Brat is a religious Christian who speaks frequently of his faith, the temptation to uncover a Jewish angle became irresistible. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the leading Jewish weekly the Forward, and a variety of other publications duly turned out articles examining, from every perspective, the Jewish and religious sides of the election.

The problem was that there was no Jewish angle, at least not one of any consequence.

David Wasserman, a normally sensible political analyst, got things going with a much-quoted statement to the Times suggesting that anti-Semitism was at play in Cantor’s defeat. Cantor was culturally out of step with his redrawn district, according to Wasserman, “and part of this plays into his religion. You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.” Sensationalist headlines soon followed. The Week, a news magazine, ran a story entitled “Did Eric Cantor lose because he’s Jewish?” And the Forward ran an opinion column with the headline “Did Eric Cantor Lose Because He’s Jewish? You Betcha.”

But there was no elephant in the room. There wasn’t even a mosquito in the room. Nobody could turn up a single statement or piece of literature coming from the Brat campaign or anyone else that was even remotely anti-Semitic. And sensationalism aside, the ultimate consensus of virtually everyone was that anti-Semitism was not a factor of any kind in Cantor’s loss.

Conservatives, including Jewish conservatives, cried foul, charging that the point of the coverage was a deliberate attempt by liberals to smear Republican voters as bigots. Perhaps, although my own view is that it reflected media sloppiness and obsessiveness more than political conspiracy.

Another claim was that even in the absence of explicit anti-Semitism, the Brat victory represented a victory for evangelicalism and Christian politics and therefore a long-term threat to Jews and all non-Christian minorities. Vigilance about church-state separation is always appropriate, of course, but it is hard to see the threat here. Brat is often described as aligned with the Tea Party, which is a motley collection of organizations and activists; it has ill-defined religious positions not at all identical with those of evangelical groups, which are diverse themselves. Most important, there is much evidence that Americans are becoming less religious and not more so, and, as the gay marriage issue demonstrates, more tolerant in their religious outlooks.

Mr. Brat, of course, likes to talk publicly of his belief in God, and that is distressing to some people, both Jews and Christians. But God talk is acceptable in America, and people with liberal religious outlooks, President Obama included, also make reference to their religious beliefs from time to time. The key for politicians is to be sure that they ground their statements in a language of morality that is accessible to everyone; Americans need a common political discourse not dominated by exclusivist theology. As long as Brat—and others—stay on the right side of that political line, there is no reason to see this election as a religious watershed for Jews or anyone else, or a victory for religious coercion.

A third claim is that the Cantor defeat represents a disastrous decline of Jewish political fortunes. In this view, Cantor’s defeat is seen as part of a broader pattern: There are 33 Jews in the current Congress, both the House and the Senate, as compared with 39 in the previous one. But here again, this seems like an altogether arbitrary and unfounded assumption. Jews are well represented in all areas of America’s educational, business, and political life, and that is not changed in any way by the defeat of a Jewish Majority Leader in the House of Representatives.

Eric Cantor’s fall from political power is interesting and in some ways important. For decades to come, politicians and professors will study it as an example of what happens when a serious but self-referential politician loses touch with the things that ordinary Americans care about and gets caught up in the big-dollar culture of Washington. But they will say very little about the Jewish dimension of this affair—and that is for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist.


By: Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, a Writer and Lecturer, was President of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012; Time, June 16, 2014



June 17, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Incongruous Spectacle”: Dave Brat’s Win Over Eric Cantor Exposed The Unholy Tea Party-Wall Street Alliance

The Tea Party wave that built around the country in 2009 and 2010 was fueled by many thingsresentment over foolhardy homeowners getting mortgage relief, backlash against the Affordable Care Act, and anxiety over federal spending. But if its rhetoric was to be believed, the movement was also driven by a healthy dose of old-fashioned anti-Wall Street populismanger over the TARP bailouts, the AIG bonuses, the Obama administration’s failure to prosecute any of the bankers who’d brought us close to ruin.

Something funny happened, though, as the pitchforks made their way to confront the money changers at the temple: Wall Street and big business co-opted them. It turned out that some elements of the Tea Party movement were much more opposed to Obama than they were to self-dealing CEOs and bankers, and perfectly willing to join with the latter to fight the former. This quickly produced the confounding spectacle of a purportedly populist uprising that was working hand in hand, and in many cases funded by, the business elite. And the nexus for this alliance was the Republican leadership in Congress. When Republicans were trying to block the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, they took Frank Luntz’s devious advice to label the bill a “bailout” for the banksdeploying Tea Party rhetoric to attack a bill that was in fact bitterly opposed by the bailed-out banks. In recognition of this effort, Wall Street in 2010 swung its campaign spending sharply toward GOP candidates, including many running under the Tea Party banner.

And when the Tea Party wave reached Washington, after the Republican rout in the midterm elections, who put himself forward as the new arrivals’ standard bearer within the House leadership? None other than Eric Cantorthe top recipient of financial industry money in Congress, the longtime protector of one of the most notorious Wall Street favors of all, the tax loophole for the carried-interest income of private-equity and hedge-fund managers. It was an incongruous spectacle, but so muddled had the right’s populism become by that point that the opportunistic Cantor was able to brazen his way through it. It was he who goaded the insurgent congressmen to make the raising of the debt-ceiling limit in June of 2011 their big stand against Obama: “I’m asking you to look at a potential increase in the debt limit as a leverage moment when the White House and President Obama will have to deal with us,” Cantor told the rank-and-file in a closed-door meeting in Baltimore in January 2011. It was he who undermined Speaker John Boehner’s effort to reach a grand bargain with Obama to pull the nation back from the brink, by riling up rank-and-file conservatives against the deal. It was a brilliant display: in one fell swoop, Cantor was able to protect the financiers’ carried-interest loophole (which Obama sought to close as part of the deal) at the same very time as he was serving as the champion of the Tea Party insurgents.

Now, Cantor’s game is up. Many, such as my colleague John Judis and the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, have already noted the right-wing populism in the rhetoric of Dave Brat, the economics professor who upset Cantor in Tuesday’s primary. But what is particularly significant about Brat’s victory is that he deployed this populism against the very man who had perfected the art of faking it. “All the investment banks in New York and D.C.those guys should have gone to jail,” Brat said at one Tea Party rally last month. “Instead of going to jail, they went on Eric’s Rolodex, and they are sending him big checks.” Liberals have for some time now been decrying Cantor’s hypocrisy in posing as the tribune of the common man, but here was a fellow Republican calling it out (without, it should be noted, the assistance of any of the self-appointed Tea Party organizations that have been so willing to make common cause with their anti-Obama allies on Wall Street). Yes, some conservatives have for the past few years been making noise about “crony capitalism,” but somehow their examples of this scourge most often tended to be Democratic-inflected rackets, such as the failed solar energy company Solyndra, rather than Republican-tinted ones such as, say, the private lenders who were making a killing acting as taxpayer-subsidized middle-men in the student loan market.

This is why we should be grateful for Dave Brat, beyond the schadenfreude of seeing a widely disliked congressional leader brought low. Yes, Brat’s win will add new kindling to the Tea Party cause just as some were declaring it burned out, thus further reducing the odds of legislative progress in areas such as immigration reform. But his win has, at least momentarily, also brought some clarity and integrity to the insurgency. Here was anti-Wall Street populism in its pure form: aimed, for once, at the right target.


By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, June 12, 2014

June 16, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Tea Party, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fix Isn’t In”: Eric Cantor And The Death Of A Movement

How big a deal is the surprise primary defeat of Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader? Very. Movement conservatism, which dominated American politics from the election of Ronald Reagan to the election of Barack Obama — and which many pundits thought could make a comeback this year — is unraveling before our eyes.

I don’t mean that conservatism in general is dying. But what I and others mean by “movement conservatism,” a term I think I learned from the historian Rick Perlstein, is something more specific: an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda, meanwhile providing a support network for political and ideological loyalists.

By rejecting Mr. Cantor, the Republican base showed that it has gotten wise to the electoral bait and switch, and, by his fall, Mr. Cantor showed that the support network can no longer guarantee job security. For around three decades, the conservative fix was in; but no more.

To see what I mean by bait and switch, think about what happened in 2004. George W. Bush won re-election by posing as a champion of national security and traditional values — as I like to say, he ran as America’s defender against gay married terrorists — then turned immediately to his real priority: privatizing Social Security. It was the perfect illustration of the strategy famously described in Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” in which Republicans would mobilize voters with social issues, but invariably turn postelection to serving the interests of corporations and the 1 percent.

In return for this service, businesses and the wealthy provided both lavish financial support for right-minded (in both senses) politicians and a safety net — “wing-nut welfare” — for loyalists. In particular, there were always comfortable berths waiting for those who left office, voluntarily or otherwise. There were lobbying jobs; there were commentator spots at Fox News and elsewhere (two former Bush speechwriters are now Washington Post columnists); there were “research” positions (after losing his Senate seat, Rick Santorum became director of the “America’s Enemies” program at a think tank supported by the Koch brothers, among others).

The combination of a successful electoral strategy and the safety net made being a conservative loyalist a seemingly low-risk professional path. The cause was radical, but the people it recruited tended increasingly to be apparatchiks, motivated more by careerism than by conviction.

That’s certainly the impression Mr. Cantor conveyed. I’ve never heard him described as inspiring. His political rhetoric was nasty but low-energy, and often amazingly tone-deaf. You may recall, for example, that in 2012 he chose to celebrate Labor Day with a Twitter post honoring business owners. But he was evidently very good at playing the inside game.

It turns out, however, that this is no longer enough. We don’t know exactly why he lost his primary, but it seems clear that Republican base voters didn’t trust him to serve their priorities as opposed to those of corporate interests (and they were probably right). And the specific issue that loomed largest, immigration, also happens to be one on which the divergence between the base and the party elite is wide. It’s not just that the elite believes that it must find a way to reach Hispanics, whom the base loathes. There’s also an inherent conflict between the base’s nativism and the corporate desire for abundant, cheap labor.

And while Mr. Cantor won’t go hungry — he’ll surely find a comfortable niche on K Street — the humiliation of his fall is a warning that becoming a conservative apparatchik isn’t the safe career choice it once seemed.

So whither movement conservatism? Before the Virginia upset, there was a widespread media narrative to the effect that the Republican establishment was regaining control from the Tea Party, which was really a claim that good old-fashioned movement conservatism was on its way back. In reality, however, establishment figures who won primaries did so only by reinventing themselves as extremists. And Mr. Cantor’s defeat shows that lip service to extremism isn’t enough; the base needs to believe that you really mean it.

In the long run — which probably begins in 2016 — this will be bad news for the G.O.P., because the party is moving right on social issues at a time when the country at large is moving left. (Think about how quickly the ground has shifted on gay marriage.) Meanwhile, however, what we’re looking at is a party that will be even more extreme, even less interested in participating in normal governance, than it has been since 2008. An ugly political scene is about to get even uglier.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 12, 2014

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Eric Cantor | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Prelude To Betrayal”: Why Republicans Hate Their Leaders, Eric Cantor Edition

There have been a lot of analyses of what Eric Cantor’s Loss Means in the last 36 hours, all of which run the risk of over-generalizing from one off-year primary election in one particular district. But as I’ve said before, the internal conflict within the Republican Party is the defining political dynamic of this period in history, and it’s as good an opportunity as any to assess its latest quivers and quakes. As a liberal, I’m at something of a disadvantage when examining this conflict, because although I can look at what conservatives do and what they say publicly, I don’t have access to the things they say when they talk to each other. So it’s always good to hear from those who do and can remind the rest of us of what conservatives are actually feeling. Sean Trende offers an important perspective:

First, analysts need to understand that the Republican base is furious with the Republican establishment, especially over the Bush years. From the point of view of conservatives I’ve spoken with, the early- to mid-2000s look like this: Voters gave Republicans control of Congress and the presidency for the longest stretch since the 1920s.

And what do Republicans have to show for it? Temporary tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a new Cabinet department, increased federal spending, TARP, and repeated attempts at immigration reform. Basically, despite a historic opportunity to shrink government, almost everything that the GOP establishment achieved during that time moved the needle leftward on domestic policy. Probably the only unambiguous win for conservatives were the Roberts and Alito appointments to the Supreme Court; the former is viewed with suspicion today while the latter only came about after the base revolted against Harriet Miers.

The icing on the cake for conservatives is that these moves were justified through an argument that they were necessary to continue to win elections and take issues off the table for Democrats. Instead, Bush’s presidency was followed in 2008 by the most liberal Democratic presidency since Lyndon Johnson, accompanied by sizable Democratic House and Senate majorities.

You don’t have to sympathize with this view, but if you don’t understand it, you will never understand the Tea Party.

You may read that and say, “Are they crazy?” The view those of us on the left have of the Bush years is that conservatives got just about everything they wanted. They got huge tax cuts, scaled back environmental and labor regulations, a massive increase in defense spending, a couple of wars, the appointment of a cadre of true-believer judges nurtured by the Federalist Society, and nearly anything else they asked for.

And yes, the deficit ballooned under Bush, which is what happens when you cut taxes and increase spending. But until Barack Obama took office, the goal of shrinking government was something that conservatives always paid lip service to but never actually tried to do much about, which suggests that their commitment to it didn’t go particularly far. Don’t forget that Ronald Reagan, who walked the earth without sin, increased the deficit more than his thirty-nine predecessors combined, and that hasn’t lessened the degree to which the right worships him.

But that’s a liberal’s perspective. Trende is right that, whether reasonable or not and no matter what they felt at the time, the standard view among the conservative base is now that the Bush presidency was a failure. And so they have embraced a permanent revolution, in which it’s necessary to fight not just against Democrats but against Republicans as well, since every GOP leader is little more than a traitor waiting to be revealed.

If you’re a Republican politician you can surf that tide, but it takes a lot of work. And it’s almost impossible to do the things that most politicians try to do in Washington without alienating your base. Not that Eric Cantor was ever particularly sincere about representing the Tea Party, but the very act of joining the Republican leadership is enough to make clear to them that you’re on the wrong side. People in the leadership organize things, try to master the system, and plan legislative strategy. All of that is suspect at best; the only true conservative, true conservatives will tell you, is the one pounding on the gates from the outside. As Brian Beutler wrote yesterday, “The great irony of this year’s primary season, and indeed of conservative politics going back years now, is that the two Republican leaders most responsible for the party’s insurgent-like opposition to the Obama agenda—Cantor, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—are the base’s most reviled.”

As far as that activist base is concerned, every Republican politician should be nothing but an agent of chaos and destruction, or at least pretend that’s who he is. It’s not only incompatible with governing, it’s barely compatible with holding office. Anyone who actually tries to accomplish anything is quickly turned from hero to traitor, as Marco Rubio was when he attempted to devise an immigration plan; Tea Partiers who once celebrated Rubio now view him with contempt. The only kind of legislator who can stay in their good graces is one who never bothers legislating, like Ted Cruz. Writing laws is for compromisers and turncoats; what matters is that the revolution continue forever.

Things can always change, but if this sentiment endures, it’ll be interesting to see what happens the next time a Republican is elected president. Because whoever that president is, he will never be able to satisfy this base; indeed, by the very act of taking office and beginning to govern he will have assured them that betrayal is on its way. Their rage will endure. But maybe that’s just how they like it.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 12, 2014

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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