Eric Cantor is out. He will step down as House majority leader at the end of July, after losing his primary by 11 percentage points to David Brat,
a man with the last name Brata conservative professor at Randolph-Macon College.
And now, all the people who were completely flummoxed and astounded by this outcome are going around announcing that they know exactly why.
Political surprises and upsets come in stages. First, alarm. Then a panicked rush, on Twitter, to exhaust all the pun possibilities of the last names of everyone involved. (“No We Cantor,” “Can’t believe Cantor lost to a sausage“) Then general chaos. Then total, absolute certainty about why this happened and the lessons that it clearly offers for the party and the nation going forward.
I am never quite sure how we get to that last stage. I always tend to be a little chary of explanations for The True Reason This Happened from people who did not expect this would happen at all.
The amazing thing is how, even if it caught you by surprise, this development confirms the belief you held all along — depending on whom you ask, that The Republican Party Has Entered A Crisis From Which It May Never Recover And Has Started Devouring Its Young Like That Creepy Saturn In The Goya Painting. That If You Claim To Be Conservative You Should Never Try To Reform Anything Ever (But Especially Not Immigration.) That This Is A Lot Like Something That Could Happen On “House Of Cards” (a remarkably versatile opinion). That Reports Of The Death Of The Tea Party Have Been Greatly Exaggerated. That The Tea Party Is Still Just As Dead As It Used To Be And This Win Actually Has Little To Do With It. That When AM Radio Is For You No Man Can Stand Against You. No Man Can Serve Two Masters, Especially Not When The Tea Party Is One Of Those Masters.
And, well, depending on where you came from, one of these may appeal to you.
But what are the practical implications?
Here are a few ways to ensure this never happens again:
1) Avoid steak. Especially avoid spending more than $168,000 on steak. If you are spending more at steakhouses than your opponent is spending on his entire campaign, you are doing something wrong. But just in general, avoid steak. Red meat is fine, but only if it’s a metaphor.
2) Some cynics say that the only way to win in the Republican Party these days is to run to the right. This can be a problem. Given how far right many people in office already are, the strip of road available to the right is getting narrower and narrower, to the point where you are being forced to run in the prickly bushes far to the side of the road, far right of the dead armadillos and yellow stripes, just a little bit right of the dead opossum. “No Compromise Ever! Bring 1790 Back!”
This is not actually true. You should not, for instance, try to run to the right of someone who is actually to the right of you. Unless you are in an M.C. Escher drawing, this seldom works out. And don’t fool yourself. For instance, if you have ever been to D.C., even once, and suggested a compromise position on an issue of any kind, no matter how you behaved during the debt-ceiling talks, you do not have the right lane. In that case, running lots of ads decrying your opponent as a “liberal professor” when he is clearly only one of those things, is extremely likely to backfire. (“The only thing I know about this guy is that he is definitely not a liberal professor” is a great start in a primary campaign.)
3) The real key for elected officials is that they should never actually leave the states they represent at any point. I know it says in the job description that you are supposed to represent your constituents in Washington and make laws and generally help govern the country, but the instant your foot lands on the fetid marshy lobbyist-ridden soil of Washington, you are forever tainted. You have stopped being part of the solution and become part of the problem. Once you arrive, you might meet people with differing opinions and have to interact or, worse, compromise with them. Even if you make a point of sitting in the backs of meetings making lip-farts when anyone from the opposing party or the center wing of your own party tries to speak, Real Americans will still wonder what you’re doing in the room with those vile politicians to begin with. No, the only way to win is not to go. If only there were a way to vote “No” on every single bill without ever having to go to D.C. That, really, would be ideal.
4) Be Lindsey Graham.