TIME Republican Party

GOP Candidates May Benefit From Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Decision

Supreme Court Gay Marriage
Demonstrators in support of same sex marriage stand during the second annual "March for Marriage" in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington on June 19, 2014. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

Some strategists hope the legal decision helps push the issue of gay marriage off the political agenda

The Supreme Court’s decision Monday clearing the way for same-sex marriages in five states may benefit an unlikely group: Republican lawmakers who can’t wait to stop talking about gay marriage, an issue that is increasingly becoming a drag for the party.

Advisors to multiple likely 2016 candidates told TIME after the news broke that they are hopeful that swift action by the Supreme Court will provide them cover. “We don’t have to agree with the decision, but as long as we’re not against it we should be okay,” said one aide to a 2016 contender who declined to be named to speak candidly on the sensitive topic. “The base, meanwhile, will focus its anger on the Court, and not on us.”

The initial comments of politicians also hinted at a desire to turn the page. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 contender locked in a tough re-election fight this fall, told the Associated Press that the fight to prevent same-sex marriage would end. “It’s over in Wisconsin,” he said.

“The federal courts have ruled that this decision by this court of appeals decision is the law of the land and we will be upholding it,” Walker added, echoing the statement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who called the issue “settled” in his state over the summer, despite his personal opposition to such unions. Christie declined to address the decision when asked about it Monday.

At a forum in Washington, D.C., Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is also considering a run for the White House, said the issue was moving out of the political sphere. “The law is certainly in the Court’s court,” Jindal said. Neither man said the court ruling had dented their own opposition to same sex marriage, but their statements indicated they hope to set the issue aside as they eye bids for the White House.

Wary of this possibility, evangelical leaders vowed election year fights. “For candidates running in 2014 and those who run for president in 2016, there will be no avoiding this issue,” said the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed in a statement after the Supreme Court ruling. Yet many in the party are preparing to do just that.

“The GOP is a culturally conservative party and should remain so,” said Alex Castellanos, one of the dozens of GOP political operatives to sign on to an amicus curiae brief against the Defense of Marriage Act last year. “Increasingly, there is less room in the GOP for ‘big-government’ social conservatives, i.e., social conservatives who believe in using the power of the state to tell people whom they can love or marry. Instead, there is growing agreement, in an ever younger and increasingly libertarian Republican party, that the role of the state in prohibiting relationships should be minimized.”

In the decision Monday, the high court declined to hear challenges to appellate court rulings that five state same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, effectively approving the rulings and erecting a legal barrier to states seeking to prevent the practice from taking hold. The decision is the latest step in a whirlwind legal push in support of same-sex marriages that has the backing of the majority of the national electorate, but has polarized the GOP.

Fifty-five percent of all Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, including 30% of self-identified Republicans and 31% of self-identified conservatives. But the issue is far more pronounced among younger voters, for whom it is more likely to be a threshold issue: 78% support same-sex marriage according to a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year.

Over the summer the Republican National Committee took control of the primary debate process with the expressed goal of reducing their focus on social issues, in hopes of keeping the eventual nominee from emerging from the primary process as unelectable to the national public.

Evangelical conservative leaders are likely to call upon Republican candidates to support a federal “marriage amendment” to prohibit same-sex coupling. Such an effort has the backing of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is preparing to mount another campaign for the White House, and has been backed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. An aide to Jindal said Monday he remains supportive of efforts to pass a federal marriage amendment. But few, if any, of its proponents, believe it can be passed in practice, given Constitutional requirement that two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states’ legislatures.

Sen. Ted Cruz announced Monday he would introduce a Constitutional amendment preventing the Supreme Court from striking down marriage laws. “The Supreme Court’s decision to let rulings by lower court judges stand that redefine marriage is both tragic and indefensible,” he said in a statement, declaring the Court’s decision not to hear arguments on the gay marriage cases “judicial activism at its worst.”

Keith Appell, a Republican political consultant working with many social conservative groups, predicted that Republicans will turn the debate to focus on the judicial appointments likely to open up under the next president. “Filling those vacancies will shape the court for the next generation and it’ll be a huge issue in both the primaries and the general election,” he said. “Do we want activist judges who literally make the law up from the bench and impose it on the people, as is happening with these appellate rulings? Or do we want judges that fairly apply the law and leave the lawmaking to Congress, state and local legislatures?”

TIME 2014 Election

A Republican Wants You to Know That Republicans Are People, Too

Amusing new online ad campaign

A former member of Mitt Romney’s ad team wants you to know something: Republicans are people, too.

An amusing new online ad campaign created by political strategist Vinny Minchillo fights back against GOP critics by showing Republicans doing what some Democrats might pride themselves on: driving Priuses, recycling, using Macs, putting together Ikea furniture and reading the New York Times in public. It also states the obvious: Yes, there are black, Hispanic and Asian people who are Republicans.

“Republicans have feelings,” says the ad’s narrator.

“The goal of the campaign is to let people know that the common misperceptions and stereotypes of Republicans are inaccurate and there is a vast range of everyday Republicans among us,” Minchillo said in a statement.

TIME Foreign Policy

Ted Cruz: Obama Must Seek Congressional Authorization For Iraq Strikes

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during The Family Leadership Summit on August 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during The Family Leadership Summit on August 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall—AP

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said Saturday that President Barack Obama must seek congressional authorization for U.S. strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if they continue.

Speaking to reporters following a speech to Iowa conservatives, Cruz declared the rise of the islamist militant group “the latest manifestation of the failures of the Obama-Clinton foreign policies.”

While Obama has said the strikes are “limited” to protect American forces and personnel, as well as vulnerable Iraqi refugees, Cruz said Obama had yet to articulate a “clear military objective” for the strikes, calling on the president to focus on U.S. national security interests instead of trying to solve a “sectarian civil war that has been waging for over 1,500-years” between Sunnis and Shiites, calling political reconciliation in Iraq something that doesn’t “makes any sense.”

Cruz said he does not believe the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq or the War Power Act provide Obama the authority to continue airstrikes against ISIS. “I believe initiating new military hostilities in a sustained basis in Iraq obligates the president to go back to Congress and to make the case and to seek congressional authorization,” Cruz said. “I hope that if he intends to continue this that he does that.”

Most Republicans in Congress, including conservatives like Cruz, have been largely supportive of the administration’s bombing and humanitarian campaign to protect U.S. forces and assist tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees surrounded on Mount Sinjar, but Republicans have called on Obama to outline a broader plan for the region. “”I am glad that President Obama is finally beginning to take the threat of ISIS seriously,” Cruz said.

Cruz’s criticism topped off a day-long barrage from conservatives at the Iowa Family Leader Summit in Ames, where several 2016 presidential contenders sought to appeal to the early-state grassroots with critiques of Obama’s handling of the situation in Iraq. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal applauded Obama for launching the campaign against ISIS, but said Obama must outline a broader vision to rout ISIS forces from Iraq and Syria. “I think he owes it to the American people, he owes it to our troops in uniform to define what the strategic vision is, what the strategic plan is,” Jindal said. “I believe it is unacceptable to allow ISIS to occupy territory in Iraq, in Syria, to continue to grow in strength.”

“These are terrorists who disagree with our fundamental values and our beliefs,” Jindal said. “This is a group that will, if it has the capabilities, bring that fight to us.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, said Obama should not stop with bombing the group, but should finally arm Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and endorse the creation of an independent Kurdish state. ““If we had good sense, we would arm the Kurds as we said we would,” Huckabee said.

Obama has offered “A foreign policy that is absolutely—it’s not distinguishable from anything,” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, adding, “we have to get Washington back.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum criticized Obama for removing all U.S. troops in Iraq in 2011, saying he should have used his “eloquence” to win over Iraqi leaders to support a status of forces agreement. “It’s stunning that they fall back on that it wasn’t their fault,” Santorum said. “That’s false.”

TIME 2016 Election

GOP Takes Control of 2016 Primary Debates

Reince Priebus
Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus addresses an audience at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Boston. Steven Senne—AP

Attempt to avoid alienating swing voters

The Republican National Committee finalized plans Friday to seize control of GOP’s presidential primary debates, threatening sanctions against any candidate that participates in any unauthorized debates.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus announced a 13-member committee of Republican officials who will set rules for the GOP’s debates during the 2016 cycle, including selecting venues, debate partners, and even moderators. The committee will be led by Priebus ally Steve Duprey of New Hampshire, who was close to both Mitt Romney and John McCain. The committee is dominated by Priebus loyalists.

“Our debates will be good for our candidates and for voters—not a field day for the media,” Priebus told members of the RNC on Friday in Chicago, shortly before the party approved its final rules for the 2016 presidential nomination fight.

The committee’s formation is a response to the nearly 20 primary debates held during the 2012 cycle, including two New Hampshire debates within 16 hours in January 2012. The committee will meet for the first time Friday afternoon, but many items on its agenda are already in motion. The committee, party insiders said, will likely set eight or nine primary debates for the 2016 cycle, with no more than one in each early-voting state. The debates will be spaced evenly throughout the cycle.

Republicans are hoping to keep the debates from focusing on issues that could alienate the party’s eventual nominee from swing voters, especially some social issues. And GOP officials are still fuming over the second general election presidential debate in 2012, during which CNN anchor Candy Crowley challenged Romney’s critique of President Barack Obama’s response to the Benghazi attacks. The committee is empowered to negotiate with media outlets over the timing and selection of moderators for the debates, demands that are likely to be met with hostility by many outlets. Some Republicans have suggested that some debates could be moderated by partisans, in a bid to make the debates more friendly to their candidates.

Any candidate who participates in a debate that is unsanctioned by the RNC’s committee will be barred from appearing in any of the authorized debates, according to the party’s rules.

The RNC debate committee has yet to determine the qualification standards for candidates to earn a spot on the stage.

TIME 2016 Election

Steve King Shows 2016 Risk of Campaign Trail Ambushes For GOP

Rep. Steve King speaks during the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's Friends of the Family Banquet in Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 9, 2013.
Rep. Steve King speaks during the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's Friends of the Family Banquet in Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 9, 2013. Justin Hayworth—AP

Candidate ambushes staged by immigration groups could hurt Republicans' 2016 chances

The August recess has begun, and so have the August recess ambushes. Republicans have a reason to worry.

On Monday, in Okoboji, Iowa, two undocumented youths confronted Iowa Rep. Steve King in a publicity stunt that charts a clear path to political pain for Republicans as the 2016 campaign season approaches. It is a quirk of the American system that to get elected President, candidates must meet with lots of regular people, along with full-time advocates posing as regular people, along the path to the White House. More often than not, these interactions are captured on video for eternity.

This process gives enormous opportunity and advantage to well-organized advocacy groups. In the 2008 election, a handful of groups from global warming advocates to anti-poverty crusaders fanned out across the early caucus and primary states to repeatedly ask the presidential candidates the same questions, effectively elevating their issue. Today, no group is doing this same thing as effectively as immigration reform activists, as the King video makes clear:

Notice Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the likely 2016 Presidential candidate, in the background at the beginning. His aide wisely advises him to leave his sandwich behind and clear out of the screen — and it’s a good thing he does. King, whose role in the political debate over immigration is basically the opposite of a firefighter’s role at a fire, does not disappoint. In a matter of minutes, he briefly but violently grabs the young woman’s hand in a misfired effort to quiet her, he notes condescendingly “you are very good at English,” he doubles down on his comment that drug smugglers at the southern border have calves “like cantaloupes,” he repeatedly calls Mexico a “lawless country,” and he accuses the two young people, both well-educated activists without legal documentation, of having no respect for the law.

Whatever position Republicans end up taking on immigration reform in the coming years, this is all political dynamite for the party. In the 2012 election, Republican Mitt Romney won only about 27% of the Latino vote, a number that will almost certainly have to increase if a Republican is to win in 2016. A majority of those voters have family roots in Mexico, a functioning country with significant law enforcement struggles, but one that King dismisses as “lawless.”

On the eve of the 2012 election, Latino Decisions did a poll of likely Latino voters, who made up about 10% of the electorate. The results showed clearly that Romney faced an overwhelming problem in selling those voters: Only 14% of the voters in the poll said Romney cared about the Latino community, compared with 66% who said Barack Obama cared. A significant percentage of this bias against Romney was born of mistakes he had made during the primary that had less to do with policy than attitude. As Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus later said, “Using the word ‘self-deportation’—I mean, it’s a horrific comment to make.”

A poll taken after the 2012 election found that a strong majority of Americans—57% in total, including 60% of independents and 35% of Republicans—supported President Obama’s effort to give job permits to some undocumented immigrants who had been brought to country illegally as minors. This is the policy House Republicans voted last week to defund, with Steve King leading the charge. That makes him an easy target for activists. Ambushes like this are stunts. But in the system we have, they work. And this is just the beginning.

TIME controversy

Emails: Former IRS Official Lois Lerner Called Republicans ‘Crazies’ and ‘—holes’

Former IRS Director Lois Lerner Testifies To A House Oversight Committee On IRS Targeting Scandal
Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner exercises her Fifth Amendment right not to speak about the IRS targeting investigation before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on March 5, 2014 in Washington. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp released new emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner as part of investigation examining potential criminal wrongdoing

Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service official at the center of a scandal involving that agency’s targeting of conservative groups, called Republicans “crazies” and “assholes,” according to emails released Wednesday.

Lerner’s messages were released by House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp as part of an investigation looking into possible criminal wrongdoing at the IRS. The emails released by Camp’s committee were redacted to use the language “—holes,” but a Camp spokesperson confirmed the original emails read “assholes.” Lerner resigned from her post overseeing tax-exempt groups last September.

In work emails exchanged November 2012 with an unidentified person, Lerner knocks the “whacko wing” of the Republican Party and conservative radio shows. Camp said in a statement that he hopes the released emails urge the Justice Department to “aggressively pursue this case” and appoint a special counsel. In May 2013, Lerner acknowledged that the IRS chose groups with “tea party” in their name for additional review in determining their tax-exempt status as social welfare groups.

A spokesman for Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

 

TIME Republican Party

Ron Paul Says U.S. May Share Responsibility for Malaysia Airlines Plane Crash

Ron Paul
Former U.S. Rep. and presidential candidate Ron Paul waves to supporters before speaking at a campaign rally for U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel, Saturday, June 14, 2014, at Gander Mountain in Hattiesburg, Miss. Kelly Price—AP/The Hattiesburg American

He raises the possibility that the U.S. may be using the crash to start a war against Putin.

Former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul claimed Sunday that the U.S. and European Union may share responsibility for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine last week.

“While western media outlets rush to repeat government propaganda on the event, there are a few things they will not report,” Paul, a former Republican congressman from Texas, wrote on his website. “They will not report that the crisis in Ukraine started late last year, when the EU and U.S. overthrew the elected Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. Without U.S.-sponsored ‘regime change,’ it is unlikely that hundreds would have been killed in the unrest that followed. Nor would the Malaysian Airlines crash have happened.”

Paul is the father of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is ahead in polls of likely candidates running for the GOP nomination for president in 2016. The younger Paul has come under attack in recent weeks from Republicans such as former Vice President Dick Cheney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential rival, for being too isolationist on his foreign policy.

Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2008 and 2012, and his son Rand both hail from the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, which advocates less intervention abroad, though Rand Paul has in recent months tried to distance his himself from his father. Rand Paul’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his father’s editorial.

In the post Sunday, Ron Paul goes on to write that Ukraine separatists would have everything to lose if they shot down the plane, and nothing to gain, suggesting Ukrainian culpability. “They will not report that the Ukrainian government has much to gain by pinning the attack on Russia, and that the Ukrainian prime minister has already expressed his pleasure that Russia is being blamed for the attack,” Paul said. “They will not report that the missile that apparently shot down the plane was from a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system that requires a good deal of training that the separatists do not have.”

President Obama suggested Friday that blame for the crash lay with Russian-backed separatists, and Ukraine has released audio-recordings allegedly documenting conversations about the missile strike among separatists. “Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine,” he said.

Ron Paul compared the incident to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people last summer. “Assad was also gaining the upper hand in his struggle with U.S.-backed rebels and the U.S. claimed that the attack came from Syrian government positions,” Paul said. “Then, US claims led us to the brink of another war in the Middle East.”

At the end of the post, Ron Paul says it is entirely possible that Russia is responsible for the crash, just as the Obama administration has suggested. “Of course it is entirely possible that the Obama administration and the US media has it right this time, and Russia or the separatists in eastern Ukraine either purposely or inadvertently shot down this aircraft,” he writes. “The real point is, it’s very difficult to get accurate information so everybody engages in propaganda.”

TIME 2014 Election

The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Is Saving the GOP Establishment at Ballot Box

Tom Donohue
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on July 9, 2014. Evan Vucci—AP

Business group has been major force in 2014 races

On the day after New Jersey and Virginia’s gubernatorial elections last fall, Mitch McConnell showed up at a board meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with another race on his mind. He announced that the day’s most consequential contest had been neither Chris Christie’s victory nor Ken Cuccinelli’s defeat. Instead, the Senate minority leader explained, it had been a GOP primary in South Alabama.

The Chamber had shelled out about $200,000 in the sleepy district on the Mississippi border to rescue a mainstream candidate who was struggling to fend off a Tea Party firebrand. The race had emerged as a test of whether the GOP could thwart a conservative insurgency that threatened to swallow it. Backed by the Chamber’s money and muscle, the establishment candidate eked out a victory. If it wasn’t for you, McConnell told the audience, according to two people present, it wouldn’t have happened.

The visit was both a token of institutional gratitude and a sign of things to come. Since last fall, the Chamber has cemented itself as the GOP Establishment’s heaviest hitter in the fight to reclaim the party from Tea Party zealotry. It has forked over about $15 million to boost business-friendly candidates in 2014 elections, more than any other Republican group. And it has amassed an undefeated record in nearly a dozen races so far, including key victories over candidates backed by the national outfits that powered the shutdown.

The Chamber’s formula has been simple. It has spent heavily in key races, worked with local partners who know the issues, and tapped celebrity endorsements to lift chosen candidates. “We’re looking for ways to break through,” says Scott Reed, the Chamber’s chief political strategist.

The business lobby’s involvement in GOP primary campaigns is something new, a shift sparked by frustration with conservative groups who supported the nomination of lackluster candidates and a succession of reckless fights. “For us, it was a different approach to take a big risk early in Alabama,” says Rob Engstrom, the Chamber’s national political director. “That could have had a disastrous effect.” From there, the Chamber has triumphed around the country, from a House race in Idaho against a candidate backed by the powerful Club for Growth to a Senate primary in Georgia whose field included two Tea Party favorites that could have tipped the general election to a Democrat.

Money has been a major ingredient. The Chamber poured $2.5 million into the Georgia primary, helping to usher its candidate, GOP Rep. Jack Kingston, into the runoff later this month. It spent some $500,000 on a single ad in the Idaho House GOP primary pitting Rep. Mike Simpson, a top ally of House Speaker John Boehner, against a Club-backed candidate. In all, the Chamber could spend up to $60 million in the 2014 cycle.

When needed, the group has brought in national figures to close the deal. In Simpson’s race in Idaho, that meant enlisting Mitt Romney, whose favorability rating in the district approaches 90%. In Florida, it meant a testimonial from popular former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Perhaps the best example of this approach came in last month in Mississippi. Strategists with the Chamber scrambled to find an edge after incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran was narrowly defeated in the Republican primary, barely squeaking into a runoff three weeks later against a conservative insurgent with momentum. Cochran’s ouster would have been vindication for national Tea Party groups and a boon to their fundraising efforts. As the Establishment fretted that the race was lost, the Chamber called a Hail Mary for a Magnolia State superstar.

On June 19, former University of Southern Mississippi quarterback and NFL MVP Brett Favre endorsed Cochran in a direct-to-camera television ad. “I’ve learned through football that strong leadership makes the difference between winning and losing,” Favre, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, explained in the 30-second commercial. “Mississippi can win big with Thad Cochran.”

The ad went viral online, and in the final week of the race the Chamber spent $100,000 per day to air it across the state. The air cover helped Cochran eke out a win five days later by a little over 7,000 votes. As it happens, the original plan called for even more local firepower. The Chamber had hoped to team Favre with New York Giants QB Eli Manning, a former Ole Miss star, before Republican strategist Ari Fleischer, who advises NFL teams and players, nixed the idea. (Manning “is not political,” Fleischer wrote in an email to TIME. “It had nothing to do with the NFL.”)

Despite the electoral success, the Chamber has continued to struggle in the GOP-controlled house, where conservatives have been frustrating the group’s agenda on immigration reform and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. Some Democrats have seized on these setbacks, encouraging the Chamber to switch sides. Though officially nonpartisan, the number of Democrats endorsed by the Chamber has plunged from about three dozen in 2008 to just three only six years later.

“From the Export-Import bank to tax extenders to immigration reform, Democrats and business are on the same side on a range of issues,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement to TIME. “The Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party so far to the right that business is now closer to mainstream Democrats than Republicans.”

Not as the Chamber sees it, however. “We might have a common view with them on Ex-Im,” says Engstrom, “but the Democratic Party has fundamentally walked away from us on the issues.”

TIME Congress

Eric Cantor Has ‘No Regrets’ After Stunning Loss

The soon-to-be-former House Majority Leader says he's weighing his options, but rules out becoming a lobbyist

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he has “no regrets” after his surprise loss in a congressional Republican primary last Tuesday.

“We don’t always know right here and now why,” he said during a Sunday appearance on CNN‘s State of the Union. “And I think the perspective of time will actually indicate [how] something that may have seemed really bad at the time can turn out to be really good.”

Cantor said he didn’t think there was one issue that led to his unexpected defeat by little-known Dave Brat, and he declined to say how internal polls that had him up 34 points ahead of the vote could have been so wrong.

“To me, you know, the problems that people are facing in this country are a lot greater than any kind of setback – political setback, personal setbacks I’ve got,” he said.

During another Sunday appearance on ABC’s This Week, Cantor said that although he was considering all his options and wouldn’t rule out running for office again, there was one job he wasn’t interested in.

“I don’t think that I want to be a lobbyist, but I do want to play a role in the public debate,” he said, Politico reports.

TIME 2014 Election

Meet Dave Brat, The Giant Slayer Who Beat Eric Cantor

David Brat
Seventh District US Congressional Republican candidate David Brat at a press conference in Richmond, Va., May 28, 2014. Brat, a relative unknown, defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary, June 10, 2014. Steve Helber—AP

The conservative economics professor topples the House Majority Leader in a stunning upset

The bespectacled college professor who toppled House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary Tuesday earned a masters of divinity from Princeton with a thesis on the philosophical doctrine of logical positivism. He was a rare breed of giant slayer: the kind that nobody saw coming.

“God acted through people on my behalf,” Dave Brat told Fox News after his win. “The issue is the Republican Party has been paying too much attention to Wall Street, and not enough attention to Main Street.”

When the votes were counted, he had racked up 56% of the vote in Virginia’s Seventh District, besting the No. 2 House Republican by about 7,000 votes. A former economic consultant at the World Bank with a Ph.D from American University, Brat also worked at the accountancy Arthur Andersen in Detroit and Chicago. He has chaired the Randolph-Macon Department of Economics and Business in sleepy Ashland, Va., since 1995.

Whatever the issue, it was a stunning victory. Brat’s candidacy wasn’t championed by powerful national conservative groups. His thin political resume is limited to civic activity in Henrico County, the Richmond-area suburbs that form Cantor’s base. He raised just $206,000, a mere fraction of Cantor’s $4.7 million haul. Scant polling had Brat trailing by double digits; in the waning stages of the contest, Cantor’s veteran campaign team touted an internal survey that showed the powerful incumbent’s lead hovering around 30 points.

But Brat was able to channel the grassroots frustration with Republican leadership. Much of his campaign was built on shopworn conservative boilerplate: cutting taxes, shredding Obamacare, enacting term limits and protecting the Second Amendment from looming threats. He cast Cantor as a weak-kneed leader who capitulated to Democrats and flagged in the battle to repeal the President’s health-care reform law. A photo on Brat’s website—which boasts an aesthetic reminiscent of the early-aughts—showed the incumbent with his hand over his heart, in conversation with a smiling Barack Obama.

The message was clear: Cantor had been in Washington too long, was too cozy with Democratic rivals, and had forsaken his conservative district to further his national ambitions. “Dave Brat is a smart dude,” marveled David “Mudcat” Saunders, a veteran Democratic consultant in the state. “It was a shoe leather campaign. It was the greatest of the grassroots. He knocked on doors, he got out there, he told his story. They just did a hell of a job.”

Brat also tried to paint Cantor, who is considered a cautious supporter of immigration reform, as an advocate of “amnesty.” The No. 2 House Republican vociferously rejected the label, and in fact had rejected Democratic pleas to bring up comprehensive immigration reform for a vote.

Tea Party groups, who have struggled in this year’s intramural skirmishes against mainline conservatives, touted the victory as a sign of the movement’s enduring strength. “The fact that an underfunded candidate like Dave Brat has upset the sitting Majority Leader in a primary is not only a statement that the Tea Party is alive and well,” said Daniel Horowitz of the conservative Madison Project, but also “a mandate for leadership reform, and a shot across the bow for the rest of the Republicans.”

Early signs suggest the state’s GOP leadership will coalesce around the unlikely victor. Pat Mullins, the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, lauded Brat as “highly-qualified, dedicated, and committed to the Commonwealth of Virginia and her people.”

Cantor, who can still opt to mount a write-in campaign, is only the second House Republican incumbent to lose a GOP primary this year. It was a defeat that nobody saw coming—except perhaps the little-known figure who authored the upset. “I think I’m peaking at the right time,” Brat said recently. And he turned out to be right.

-With reporting by Alex Rogers and Zeke J Miller

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