Monday, June 16, 2014


I'm not sure whether to believe it, but this New York Times story offers an intriguing theory for why Dave Brat beat Eric Cantor in Virginia's 7th District and Chris McDaniel forced Thad Cochran into a Senate runoff in Mississippi: the tea party radicals are voters who aren't longtime residents.
... In both states, the growth fueled by a migration of newcomers from other parts of the country and even abroad is bringing nationalized politics to races further down the ballot. It was these new arrivals, more than any other voters, who most crucially rejected two influential Republican incumbents -- the House majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, and Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi -- in primaries this month, upending long-held assumptions about the appeal of traditional levers of power....

For all the talk about how partisan polarization is overwhelming Washington, there is another powerful, overlapping force at play: Voters who are not deeply rooted increasingly view politics through a generic national lens.

... the axiom that "all politics is local" is increasingly anachronistic when ever-larger numbers of voters have little awareness of what incumbents did for their community in years past and are becoming as informed by cable television, talk radio and the Internet as by local sources of news. In this year's primaries, the trend is lifting hard-liners...
Well, that's what I was telling you right after Cantor lost: that he was defeated because in recent months he wasn't on Fox News all the time denouncing President Obama and liberalism. You see anti-Obama soundbites from Mitch McConnell and John Boehner on TV news all the time; you see Lindsey Graham denouncing Obama on Sunday talk shows practically every week. All those guys fail the tea party purity test, but this year they all won their primaries anyway.

I never quite believed the conventional theories -- that Cantor alienated party regulars (see #3 here) or that hedidn't do enough "constituent service." Cochran, we're told in the Times story, did a hell of a lot of "constituent service" where he lost badly:
In the newly built communities of DeSoto County in Mississippi, and the fast-growing precincts in such metropolitan Richmond counties as Henrico, Hanover and Chesterfield -- what could be called the Chick-fil-A belt -- the conservative challengers to the two incumbents led by overwhelming margins....

In recent decades Mr. Cochran, a six-term veteran, has used his senior status on the Appropriations Committee to make these very neighborhoods possible: He steered nearly $80 million to DeSoto County to help build new wastewater treatment facilities to meet the growing demand that has come with the surge in commercial and residential construction.

Mr. Cochran's backers note that the earmarking of such money -- now taboo in the Tea Party era -- has kept utility bills in the county reasonable and prevented higher local taxes.

"People in DeSoto County, many of whom work in Memphis and have not been there very long, they don’t know about Ingalls shipyard, they don't care about Columbus Air Force Base, Meridian Naval Air Station, the Army Corps of Engineers center in Vicksburg, the Stennis Space Center," said former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who backs Mr. Cochran, reeling off places and projects that mean precious little to many voters here.
All they care about are the talking points they get from right-wing media:
Finishing up lunch at a Southaven Chick-fil-A on Friday, Rose Witherspoon, 77, said she and her husband, Bryant, both of whom grew up out of state and moved here from Memphis, were drawn to Mr. McDaniel for his broad conservative principles: "We like less federal government, we don't like all this debt, we like more freedom," she said.
Is it any surprise that voters like this gravitate to the likes of Chris McDaniel -- or David Brat, who says things like this?
"Common-" anything I'm against. United Nations. Common everything. If you say common, by definition you're saying it's top-down. I'm going to force this on you. That's what dictators do.
These are people you could call rootless non-cosmopolitans. It's not just that they and their forebears haven't lived in the same place for generations -- I'm a Boston transplant in New York, a city full of transplants, so I'm not at all inclined to criticize rootlessness per se -- it's that they get to a new place and (unlike my neighbors and me) they don't come to feel like part of a greater whole in their new home. They settle in their little boxes in their new housing developments and they don't care about anything larger than their little household unit, except maybe "America" as defined by patriotic kitsch and right-wing propaganda.

To some extent it's alienation, I guess -- although I'm not sure why you should be alienated if you're a 77-year-old retiree who got in under the wire before the American Dream completely died (it's not like being a recent college grad with no job prospects and a gazillion dollars in student debt). But these folks are right to think that the country is in decline -- and maybe, a little bit like angry, rootless young male Muslims in reasonably good jobs in America and Europe, some of them are susceptible to radical theories about how to purify the culture. Their jihadist sermons are on AM radio and Fox.


Victor said...

'"We like less federal government, we don't like all this debt, we like more freedom," she said.'

Said the couple, who's on Medicare, and collecting SS

And who probably also have a pension, which the government guaranteed.

They're not rootless non-cosmopolitans - more like clueless ones.

Jules said...

Eh. In Virgina at least I think it far more likely a case of who voted. Cantor's supporters probably assumed he'd be fine and didn't bother to vote.

I'd be interested to know how many registered R voters are in the district, but not interested enough to look it up.

Bulworth said...

I didn't finish reading the NYT article, but I wonder if they have more than anecdotal evidence for this claim. Are there really enough people who've moved from out of state in the past two years to have an impact like this?

Joe said...

(Lifelong Virginian here.)
Those new arrivals in the 7th District know perfectly well who Eric Cantor is, and what he does. There's a better explanation.

Republicans have spent generations suppressing voter turnout. "They're all crooks." "Don't vote; it only encourages them." "Government is the problem." "The Government doesn't care what you think." And lately, actual voter-suppression laws.

The necessary consequence of low voter turnout is small-sample errors. You're going to get weird random outcomes of elections every now and then, and this is one of them.