David Brat defeats congressman Eric Cantor

FT Columnist Christopher Caldwell comments on economist David Brat’s upset victory against Eric Cantor – the number two man in the US House of Representatives – in a Republican party primary.

Prof Brat was such a long shot that no national Tea Party association backed him. But it is right to call him a Tea Party man. He is an ideologue. Mr Cantor, by contrast, was a pragmatist. Tea Partiers … believe … Republican bigwigs represent their donors, who overlap and socialise with Democratic donors. Together they secure the things rich people want: low capital gains rates, high immigration, an agnostic culture. ….

It is a common error to look at the Tea Party ideology as just an intense, distilled version of the Reaganism Republicans have espoused since the late 1970s. The political scientist Norman Ornstein, for instance, speaks of a battle “between hardline conservatives who believe in smaller government and radical nihilists who want to blow up the whole thing”. This is wrong. What the Tea Party brings to the Republican party, for the first time in a century and a half, is a leaven of hostility to capitalism – or at least to crony capitalism. Republicans have been an anti-slavery party, a robber-baron party, a hard-money party, an anti-communist party and a Christian party, but they have always had a soft spot for businessmen.

No more. While Prof Brat professes to revere Ronald Reagan, he is not a supply-side dogmatist. …. He believes in free markets but does not assume every rich person is his friend.

Of the Wall Street executives he blames for the past six years of finance crisis and stagnation, he said on the stump last month: “Those guys should have gone to jail. Instead of going to jail, they went on Eric [Cantor]’s Rolodex, and they are sending him big cheques.”

Christopher Caldwell, “Brat reconnects Republicans with an angry electorate“, Financial Times, 14 June 2014.

Christopher Caldwell (born 1962) is an American journalist and senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a neoconservative opinion magazine founded in 1995 by William Kristol (born 1952).

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