Eric Cantor

Will Anybody Really Miss Eric Cantor?

His stunning loss was built on a terrible record of big-government conservatism at its worst.


This article originally appeared at The Daily Beast on June 11, 2014.

Will anybody really miss Eric Cantor? Probably not. Despite (or maybe because of) his position in the House Republican leadership and the historic nature of his primary loss, there was virtually nothing remarkable about him as a politician or a policymaker. The Republicans have dozens or hundreds or thousands more just like him. He's like a Dorito corn chip in those old Jay Leno ads: They'll make more.

Cantor exemplifies what Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) just denounced as a "Chamber of Commerce"-style GOP legislator, "the same-old, same-old," standard-issue Republican who has brought the party to a historically low level of self-identification among voters.

Cantor was what passes for a small-government conservative. Which is to say that Cantor was in favor of shrinking the size and scope of  government…except for the endless list of exceptions that allowed him to help grow federal spending by more than 50 percent in real terms, and regulatory spending by even more, during the Bush years.

You know the drill: As a "conservative," Cantor wanted the government out of people's lives because FREEDOM-FOUNDING FATHERS-CONSTITUTION. Yet Cantor was anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion (he even wanted to prohibit adults from transporting minors across state lines if they were getting abortions). Because the federal government really should dictate all that, right? He endorsed a constitutional amendment against flag burning because free expression doesn't mean you can actually express what you mean. He was pro-gun or, more specifically, pro-National Rifle Association. He was pro-drug war. Nothing unique or interesting there.

He wavered ever-so-slightly on immigration reform, meaning that he believed some children of immigrants shouldn't be punished for their parents' transgressions (big of him, really, at least in a GOP context). But he voted to build a militarized fence along our border with Mexico, pulled a 100 percent rating from the xenophobes at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and he wanted English to be the official language of America (what's Mexican for WTF?). He loved the national security state (including virtually unchecked surveillance of Americans as well as foreigners), defense spending, and wars (especially when a Republican was in the White House). He voted for No Child Left Behind, the single-biggest increase in federal control over education because education is an issue best dealt with at the local level, unless conservative Republicans run the country.

On spending and economic issues, he was atrocious and hypocritical in all the ways that a Republican can be. Of course he voted for the 2003 expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs, even as he voted against allowing Medicare to negotiate cheaper prices for that unwarranted giveaway to the nation's seniors. He signed off on the Bush budgets and he championed the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the illegal auto bailouts (at least as long as a Republican was president).

Like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Cantor was a spirited defender of the Export-Import Bank, an FDR-created boondoggle that guarantees loans to foreign businesses who buy American products. As the Mercatus Center's Veronique de Rugy has shown, the Ex-Im Bank is among the purest excrescences of crony capitalism, with favored U.S. companies such as Boeing getting massive subsidies via the program. Cantor was the leader in the effort to reauthorize it two years ago and was the point man on this year's reauthorization too. He loved the House Republican budget resolution, the so-called Path to Prosperity, which is full of accounting tricks (such as zeroing out spending on Obamacare while keeping all the program's revenues) and would increase annual federal spending from $3.7 trillion in 2015 to $5 trillion in 2024.

If Cantor does indeed exemplify the Chamber of Commerce-style Republican that enflames the Tea Party even more than it does liberal and progressive Democrats, does the majority leader's defeat spell doom for the GOP establishment?

I hope so, but it's far from clear. Cantor's district had been redrawn, and while it remained solidly red, he was unfamiliar in much of it. His internal polling was way off, so he didn't start a counter-campaign until it was too late. For reasons that aren't clear, he pulled 8,500 fewer total votes in this primary than he did in 2012, a drop The Washington Post notes is wider than his opponent's 7,200-vote margin of victory. 

Primary voters tend to be much more ideological and extreme than general-election voters, so they aren't representative of larger party dynamics. Economics professor David Brat vanquished Cantor in part by touting a tough line on immigration, but it's not clear that rank-and-file Republicans are anti-immigrant or even care much about the topic. A recent Politico poll, for instance, finds 64 percent of Republican voters in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, and the topic is way down on lists of voter concerns.

For all those reasons, I think it's folly to talk about Cantor's loss as meaning more than the obvious: He perfectly represented the modal Republican in that he talked about limiting government while actively growing its reach in virtually every way. That is a supremely unattractive character to be in contemporary American politics, and it helps explain why Gallup finds just 25 percent of Americans identify as Republicans (the news isn't rosy for Democrats, either, according to Gallup: Just 31 percent of Americans identify with that centuries-old brand). Last Saturday, Rand Paul told the Texas Republican Liberty Caucus that people everywhere "say it's time…for this libertarian moment, this liberty moment. It's no longer something that scares people, it's what [makes] people say, we can't run the same-old, same-old, we're not going to win with the same-old, same-old." Eric Cantor was definitely the same-old, same-old. The GOP is choking on guys (yes, guys) just like him who talk about limited government and then legislate in a totally different way.

I hope that Paul is right and folks want to embrace a vision of limited government that extends to social issues and spending issues. I don't think the rejection of Cantor by primary voters tells us much about that. But it does signal that the status quo is up for grabs and that undistinguished pols like Cantor should be shaking in their boots.

This article originally appeared at The Daily Beast on June 11, 2014.

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  1. K Street lobbyists. The GOP establishment.

    1. Not really. Easily replaced.

      1. Miss who?

  2. Is it just me or is this a slow news day?

    1. It’s the World Cup. The world, except for us, is watching matches.

      1. ” Fifty yards down a side street a couple of Palestinian teenagers jumped out of the shadows. Using the girly overhand throw of nations that mostly play soccer, one kid threw a bottle at us. It landed forty yards away.” — P.J. O’Rourke.

        1. They should practice American football or baseball. Or maybe fly fishing.

          1. Even cricket.

      2. Somebody has set a match to, all right.

      3. One of Portugal’s players got red carded in the game against Germany and will be out for the game against the US. Oops.

        1. Yes, isn’t that a shame? And people say the NSA isn’t good for anything.

      4. My soccer complain of the day : Verb Noun agreement.

        Ghana is a good team. A team is a single thing. Therefore a singular noun. “Ghana are a good team” sounds fucking stupid, and we shouldn’t tolerate that shit.

        That’s it for today.

        1. It is what it are

        2. s/complain/complaint/. Although it was a given that there was going to at least one mistake in my post, given it’s nature. My point still stands.

          1. I don’t think you’re permitted, as a grammar Nazi, to make a mistake in a post criticizing someone’s grammar. Your point does still stand but now you’ve left yourself open to being cannibalized by your own kind.

        3. That’s an actual grammatical difference between American English and Commonwealth English, not an error. Well, yes it is an error, because TEAM U.S.A. WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Unlike, say, England.

          1. Methinks it’s a common error in certain dialects. It’s legitimate grammar within Standard British English in the same way that say “Le’me axe you sumtin?” is legitimate grammar within AAVE. That is to say, it’s error-filled garbage talk.

            1. It’s not an error in British English, though there are collective nouns where it is an error. Here’s an OED blog post discussing the topic.

              1. post hoc justification. I realize that’s how language changes. But cmon. It’s verb noun agreement. ENGLISH MOTHER FUCKER, DO YOU SPEAK IT?

          2. Seriously, I was thinking that a part of soccers ‘problem’ (in the US) is that you have to seemingly abandon American English to talk about it. Fuck that.

            British : US are quite good. They got a 1-nil result on the pitch.

            American : Us is pretty good. They got a 1-nothin win on the field.

            Now when an actual Brit talks British, that’s fine. Watcha gonna do? When an American talks this way is sounds like a ridiculous affectation and makes me want to punch em.

            1. I like soccer, but I refuse to pretend I speak some other version of English just because I’m watching a game. Note I eschewed the preferred “match.”

            2. I thought the Brits said “1-naught”…

              1. No, they say, 1-2, as in the score of their loss to Italy.

            3. Other than Graham Greene, is there really anything interesting about the English?

  3. I have seen a number of editorials and columns by lefty columns lamenting the loss of “one of the good ones”.

    1. “one of the good ones”

      Translation: a pushover

    2. And before he lost, those same columns and editorial pages probably characterized him as Satan’s less kind and sensitive brother. And they’ll do so again, if he ever runs in a general election.

    3. Whether push over or Satan’s dominatrix, as far as I am concerned, I hope the door does hit him in the ass on the way out.

  4. I think this is sort of missing the forest for the trees. Yes, Eric Cantor was an unremarkable Republican in every way. And he got successfully primaried in a remarkably safe Republican district. That should be indicative of something.

    1. Bingo.

      The fact that the average Republican is conservative when it suits them is nothing new to anyone who pays even the slighest bit of attention to politics.

    2. Hopefully team purple is on its way out.

  5. Who?

  6. I thought his “citizen internet vote on which program to cut” thing was kind of cute.

  7. Will anybody really miss Eric Cantor?

    …um, not me. Maybe his staffers that need to go find another political boat hull to fasten upon, barnacle-like.

    1. Barnacle-like? More like lamprey-like. Maybe even tapeworm.

  8. Virginia steakhouses will miss him, apparently.

    1. True. They can’t overcharge for a shitty steak and salad.

  9. “finds 64 percent of Republican voters in favor of comprehensive immigration reform”

    Wtf does that idiotic term even mean? For Nick, it means open borders, a come one come all amnesty citizenship.

    For many others it means build a fucking fence with a moat and then we can discuss what we do with all the lawbreakers we can catch.

    Resign yourself to be less disingenuous Nicky, and identify your version in every column and strike that euphemism from our schtick. For the sake of the newb and the uninitiated.

    1. We don’t need “comprehensive” immigration reforem anyway. We just need to fix the parts that are broken. Why do some people always want to throw out everything and start over when it’s less than perfect?

  10. A friend of mine is probably the second most powerful Republican in my state. If he so chooses, he’s in line for the House of Reps if the current guy moves on up, or might hold on for the governorship of our state. And, as a friend who I’ve known since he was milk monitor in grade school, I can say without contradiction that he’s a career politician and the process of “governing” is being run as a corporation and he’s the COO. We went to college together and I can say he’s certainly not the sharpest star in sky, or the brightest knife in the drawer. He knows just enough about a lot of things to impress people so long as he doesn’t let the topic last for more than thirty seconds. The point? This Cantor reminds me of my friend.

    1. cont

      They both give off the same vibe. The Tea Party is to be hated because it’s bad for business. Better to be a part of business as usual versus rocking the boat (not that I’m a full on Tea Party devotee myself for different reasons but not due to maintaining the status quo). In my younger days, when we tossed some cards around, I got to know plenty of state reps, on both sides, and a lot of lobbyists. Anyone who thinks governance if about The People is kidding themselves. It is a business, pure and simple. It is a business that mines Power. Power is derived from pointing the shit-eaters in the right direction and working them until they drop. And like any business, there’s those waiting in the wings for promotion. No doubt there’s a catholic (in the secular sense of the word) Repub in Cantor’s district licking their chops for the seat, and they’ll have the machine behind them. I have no doubt that person is already being primed.

      1. That person is Dave Brat.

        He will be adopted and groomed and emulated, because his fomula is a perfect mixture of same-old mainstream Republican and anti-establishment spin.

        if they can figure out how to sound like Dave Brat all the time, they might even win the White House in 2016.

  11. Nice shot of the Abrams chassis on the assembly line.

  12. Anyone who thinks governance if about The People is kidding themselves. It is a business, pure and simple. It is a business that mines Power. Power is derived from pointing the shit-eaters in the right direction and working them until they drop.


  13. Although it was a given that there was going to at least one mistake in my post, given it’s nature.



  14. My bet is that Dave Brat fits right in as a rank and file Republican.

    And his formula of running on an anti-establishment platform on economics, but mainstream Republican on immigration and defense is likely to be a winning one. Which will soon be adopted by the establishment.

    Not that that’s a good thing.

    1. But a vast improvement, wouldn’t you say? You sound a touch of the idealist.

    2. I think the single most important issue is getting the economics and finances right anyway. Stop spending like the world’s going to end tomorrow; get rid of unnecessary regulations; etc.

      1. It is the most important issue. The goddamned culture wars are only created to keep our eyes of the economic atrocities being perpetrated every day.

        1. This^^^…both sides use it. I have a friend who’s mother was a blue collar dem on our local city council 30 years ago when the streets were paved in a timely manner and the city worried about shit the should have (I was a blue collar dem in those days).

          Now, as a progtard wave has overcome this town with FEELZ all she harps about is abortion rights, when I point out that all restrictions on abortion eventually get thrown out by the courts she just shrugs.

          The evolution of our government and the lack of understanding about where it’s headed is unnerving.

          I’ve had conversations with 20/30 something young ladies about shit like Obamacare and the unsustainability of pensions and government spending. They tend to shrug it off. They are nice, well meaning kids who have no idea what shit will look like when they are my age (58). I feel for them as no one in politics is looking out for them and they have no idea about the shitstorm that will hit them in their prime.

  15. I won’t miss, and I haven’t talked to anyone who will!

  16. While I agree with most of this article, it is disappointing to see Mr. Gillespie resort to the Democrat tactic of blithely smearing someone with a false epithet: “the xenophobes at the Federation for American Immigration Reform”. There is nothing xenophobic about FAIR. Nor is there anything Statist or improper in wanting to secure our border, especially the southern border, against trespass – particularly as we know that Islamist terrorists have been using it to infiltrate the US.

    Additionally, the breezy quoting of a “push” poll that showed 64% of Republicans supporting “comprehensive immigration reform” is disingenuous. That poll defined the term, in words, in a different way from how the Left defines it in practice.

    Everyone here knows that factual integrity and logical consistency are required if one wants to be credible. Mr. Gillespie knows better than to use Leftist rhetorical tactics. He usually does better than this article.

    Certainly ending all welfare programs and legalizing drugs would drastically reduce the incentive for criminals to cross into the US, and I agree completely with Mr. Gillespie on that.

  17. “what’s Mexican for WTF?”

    They don’t speak Mexican, they speak Spanish.

  18. And again we have the despicable conflation of ILLEGAL aliens with “immigrants”. There is a huge difference, but open-the-borders fanatics like Gillespie can’t even begin to argue their positions honestly.

    “You can have open borders or you can have the welfare state, but you cannot have both.” Milton Friedman

  19. —- Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out

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