It may be that hard-core Republican primary voters, particularly in Southern states where primary turnout is usually very low, will continue to threaten GOP members of the House and Senate who display even the slightest moderation on the issue. But the PPP data suggests that wasn't the only factor in Cantor's defeat. Indeed, recent polling by PPP and other firms suggests that the Obama White House and congressional Democrats would be unwise to imagine that a Virginia Republican primary result argues for an abandonment of immigration reform.
Are there other insights to be taken from Brat's defeat of Cantor?
Perhaps. And they could have implications for the broader politics of 2014 and 2016.
Brat, whose campaign raised and spentroughly $200,000 versus Cantor's $5 million campaign, attracted grassroots Tea Party support. But the professor actually missed meetings with top national conservatives that had been organized in Washington for mid-May -- with the campaign explaining that Brat had to focus on preparations for final exams.
His distance from the national conservative establishment, much of which aligns with the same business interests as the Republican establishment, was evident in Brat's harshest criticism of Cantor.
"In my view, the greatest moral failure--which disqualifies Cantor for high public office -- was his abuse of the public trust concerning the STOCK Act, a bipartisan bill that was going through after the financial crisis," the professor wrote in a pre-election article for the opinion pages of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the dominant newspaper in the region. "The Stock Act," noted Brat, "was intended to ban insider trading on congressional knowledge for congressmen and their families. CNN discovered that Cantor altered the language of the House version in order to allow family members and spouses to continue insider trading on congressional knowledge. In my view, this action was beneath the dignity of the office. Virginians deserve better and I pledge to treat everyone equally under the law."
Brat is so little known at this point that it is hard to say where he will end up politically. He'll face a solid Democrat in November -- fellow Randolph-Macon College professor Jack Trammell -- but his chances of winning the November election in an overwhelmingly Republican district are good.
If Brat does go to Congress as a conservative critic of big business, and of the GOP's alliance with corporate interests, he could open up a lot of new debates within the party, and beyond its boundaries. On election night, he was telling Fox News, "The issue is the Republican Party has been paying way too much attention to Wall Street and not enough to Main Street." He spoke of "a fissure between Main Street and Wall Street," arguing that Republican leaders had forgotten that, "Dollars dont vote, people do."
That language suggests Brat could align with others, such as North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones Jr., an old-right conservative, and Michigan's Justin Amash, a younger libertarian-leaning member, who have run afoul of Republican leaders -- including Cantor.
Both Jones and Amash have reached across party lines and worked with progressive Democrats on a host of issues, including efforts to restrict NSA surveillance, to block free-trade deals and even (in Jones's case) to amend the US Constitution to get corporate cash out of politics.
After his victory, Brat told interviewers, "Our founding was built by people who were political philosophers, and we need to get back to that, away from this kind of cheap political rhetoric of right and left."
On at least one issue, privacy rights, Brat seems to be very much in agreement with Amash and Jones -- and progressives such as Congressman John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who has worked with Amash to address NSA abuses. The Virginian's issue primer declares, "Dave believes that the Constitution does not need to be compromised for matters of national security. He supports the end of bulk phone and email data collection by the NSA, IRS, or any other branch of government."
In his new book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (Nation Books), Ralph Nader argues that there are many issues on which an anti-corporate left and an anti-corporate right could achieve "convergence" in opposition to policies advanced by "corporate conservatives and corporate liberals." Nader's point is not to suggest that the left and the right will be in specific agreement on issues ranging from fair trade to restricting domestic surveillance to whittling down the military-industrial complex. He suggests that "they [can] come at it for different reasons, but they [can] have the same conclusion."
That's an intriguing notion, especially after one of the most powerful corporate Republicans in Washington just lost to a guy who decries "large corporations seeking insider deals" and "crony bailouts."
Read Next: George Zornick on why Eric Cantor's defeat may doom chances for immigration reform.
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