Eric Cantor was the House Majority Leader. Meaning he was a high muckity-muck in the Republican Party. Not just that, but he was reliably conservative, reliably on the right-wing side of the Republican Party. I mean, seriously, he was almost a Tea Party thorn in John Boehner’s side. Until he wasn’t. Apparently, his big mistake was expressing some willingness to work with Obama on just one aspect of the immigration problem — granting amnesty to children of illegal immigrants.
Turns out the voters in his Congressional District weren’t too thrilled with that position. He lost to a Tea Party insurgent by the name of David Brat. It wasn’t even close. In a district where Cantor typically won the Republican primary by a landslide, he was beat by almost 10 percentage points by David Brat.
So, you know the pundits are gonna have to analyze this a bit. One of the things they are saying is that David Brat is a prime example of what may be the rising tide of right wing populism. See, for example, Ron Fournier. And Andrew Sullivan, who somewhat endorses Fournier’s view. What do Fournier and Sullivan agree on? Fournier concludes that there is a populist tide growing and coalescing around the following ideas:
- A pullback from the rest of the world, with more of an inward focus.
- A desire to go after big banks and other large financial institutions.
- Elimination of corporate welfare.
- Reducing special deals for the rich.
- Pushing back on the violation of the public’s privacy by the government and big business.
- Reducing the size of government.
While Fournier suggests that these are ideas that populists from both the right and left may coalesce around, it is clear that his piece was written in response to the Cantor loss, suggesting that he sees Brat as a potential right-wing populist who may push this kind of agenda. Sullivan goes even further with the title of his post and with other pieces he has written since Cantor lost to Brat. Here’s one for example, in which he compares Brat directly to Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky — heroes of the populist left — but individuals I don’t think I could ever support.
So, I look at that list above and think, yes, I agree with every single one of them. The only one I quibble with is the very last one. See, I agree that government needs to be reduced in size, but I don’t think it should be so just because it should be so. Instead, what I think is that there is bloat and waste in government and things government shouldn’t be doing and those things should be eliminated. Unfortunately, most on the right seem to just want to cut government for the sake of cutting government.
If I agree with that list and David Brat is the incarnation of a right-wing populist, doesn’t that make me a right wing populist?
Here are some of the things Brat believes:
- Social security payments to seniors should be slashed by two-thirds. Yes, let’s go after the banks and the 1%, and eliminate corporate welfare, but, first let’s dramatically cut the safety net program many seniors depend on to survive from day to day. A safety net program, by the way, which they paid into.
- Eliminate the IRS. See, this is where I part ways with my friends on the right. Again, reduction of government is good. But eliminating the IRS is bad. The simple reality is that any organization that collects revenue, particularly one as big as the federal government, needs to have a division, agency, or department dedicated to collecting that revenue. Now, that said, I would totally support an overhaul and simplification of the tax code. But there is and always will be a need for an IRS.
- He wants to dramatically cut education funding because, in his words, “My hero Socrates trained in Plato on a rock. How much did that cost?” Well, that’s just grand — let’s all go back to the days of the Greek philosophers. Sorry, but, well, you’re really starting to lose me here. And, again, what does this have to do with the core set of ideas that populists are coalescing around?
I’m sure there are more positions like this, but my point is, as long as a right-wing “populist” goes down this path, they aren’t actually a populist anymore. These ideas have absolutely nothing to do with the core ideas of a populist and more to do with the anti-anything-related-to-government philosophy of the Tea Party. They aren’t actually interested in protecting the interests and rights of the little guy. They’re just fear mongerers.
But, wait, there’s more…
- He believes that it was weak Christians who allowed Hitler to rise and that if we don’t participate in and engage in Christian Capitalism, whatever the heck that is, it could happen again.
For these reasons and many more, as much as those original ideas appeal to me, I could never, ever be a right-wing populist.