The loss by Eric Cantor to Dave Brat is indeed a political earthquake with aftershocks still rippling through the congress.
Is the Tea Party resurgent? What are the implications for California? That depends on candidates. But it depends more on the electoral reality.
Cantor lost because he was a terrible candidate—distant, dismissive, arrogantly believing his money and clout would (as usual in politics) prevail. Brat won because he was an excellent candidate—engaged, passionate, very close to his voters… the perfect David to the Goliath of established power.
Reading deeply into many articles about the upset— and watching long YouTube videos of David Brat in action— clarifies. Brat was a near-perfect candidate to gain the trust of his angry, evangelical, fiscally conservative white voters. He rode the wave of their disgust for Cantor in particular and for the congress in general to victory. But Brat had help.
At the end of a long stump speech cum economic sermon delivered in a church (here and here), Brat’s voters asked softball questions that set the candidate up for expected replies. One intriguing question was, “Do you think you’ll pull off a miracle?” Brat answered he’d already gotten two miracles.
The first was the entrance of national media into the race. Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Brent Bozell but especially Laura Ingraham gave Brat a huge boost by endorsing early and by handing him a gigantic microphone. The second miracle was a local political win. The political mechanics are complex, but Cantor’s ham-fisted attempts to slate Brat supporters off local political committees backfired and a Brat slate gained control of critical GOP party machinery.
Yet Dave Brat was by all accounts as stunned as everyone by the Bratquake. His one staffer– a 23 year old kid– was so overwhelmed he didn’t return congratulatory calls from John Boehner’s office and instead went to a press blackout until they could hire a professional press agent. Brat himself disappeared for a time after the win.
What are the implications for California? It depends to some extent on the candidates.
Tim Donnelly just lost convincingly in another Tea Party vs Establishment fight. Donnelly was a terrible candidate, a below average public speaker with personal & political baggage requiring an eighteen wheeler to haul. Had Brat run in California he might have won easily had he—like Donnelly—entered early and gotten the grassroots energized with an anti-establishment message. Likewise had Donnelly run in Virginia, Cantor would have swatted him off like a fly. Candidates matter.
But electorates matter more. There is not a monolithic conservative electorate in California as there is in the Cantor-Brat 7th CD in Virginia. In California, the GOP is a shrinking 28% registration and among that 28% likely less than a third are hard-core Tea Party grassroots, libertarians or social conservatives. That’s why Kashkari won. The money he pumped in wasn’t the determining factor though it was a necessary factor. GOP primary voters were swayed by the argument that a vote for Donnelly was a vote for political annihilation.
Consider the demographics of Virginia vs. California. According to Pew Hispanic (here), California had 2,550,000 unauthorized immigrants in 2010 while Virginia had 210,000. That’s a 12:1 ratio. Virginia’s 7th CD is 4.9% Latino and a 3.9% Asian population to 74.3% whites. On the other hand, according to US Census data, non-Hispanic whites decreased from about 75% of the state’s population in 1970 to about 40% in 2011. Whites are today a minority in California.
In Virginia’s 7th CD, GOP politicians can afford to be anti-immigrant. California GOP electeds who are not in all-white, all-conservative districts cannot. More importantly, the California Republican Party if it wishes to remain a state party has to bring Latinos and Asians in and that will be impossible without immigration reform.
There will be no Tea Party resurgence in California. Even if a Dave Brat rises to lead them, this narrow third of 28% of the electorate has no future. And for this reason, it makes all the sense in the world for the California Republican Party—lead by Kevin McCarthy, Darrel Issa, Jeff Denham, David Valadao and others— to reject a supposed national GOP anti-immigration surge based on an upset in a predominantly white district where an out-of-touch incumbent was trounced by a near-perfect challenger with help by talk radio heavies.
The California Republican Party cannot survive without Latinos and Asians. Neither can the national party in the long run. And Latinos will not join in numbers in time unless we push as Californians for comprehensive immigration reform, the necessary first step to win them to our cause.