A populist path to power?
“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
If Thomas Jefferson’s benign reflection on Shays’ Rebellion, that uprising of farmers in 1786 and 1787, is not the first thought that comes to mind for his fellow Virginian Eric Cantor, surely it is understandable.
For the rebellious subjects of Cantor’s district just voted to end his career as House majority leader.
Many lessons are being read into and taken away from Cantor’s defeat. But that election also has revealed a populist path, both to the Republican nomination in 2016 and perhaps to the presidency.
For what were the elements of Randolph-Macon College professor Dave Brat’s victory and of Cantor’s defeat?
First, the perception that Cantor was willing to do a deal with Barack Obama to provide a partial amnesty to illegal aliens — while the media provided wall-to-wall coverage of the latest invasion across our southern border — proved devastating.
Then there is populism. Cantor spent $5 million, an astonishing sum in a congressional primary, 50 times what Brat spent. Yet he only reinforced his image as a poodle of Wall Street and K Street.
Of the bank bailout that Cantor supported, Brat was brutally effective.
“All the investment banks up in New York and D.C. … those guys should have gone to jail. But instead of going to jail … they went onto Eric’s Rolodex. … And they’re sending him big checks.”
Also helping Brat is that he is an outsider, when those in Washington are widely disliked, distrusted or even detested by Middle America.
Anti-establishment, outsider, defender of national borders — these were the cards Brat was holding, even if he had little money or organized support.
In the endless struggle between populism and the establishment and between nationalists and internationalists, populists and nationalists appear, at least temporarily, to be in the ascendancy.
Vladimir Putin’s approval is over 80 percent. Why? He stands for national sovereignty and the rights of Russians, wherever they may be.
Consider the political terrain six months before the preseason of 2016 begins.
According to every national poll, Americans believe that our country is on the wrong course, that it is less respected than it has ever been abroad and that our children and their children will most likely not know the good life that we have had.
Americans disapprove of the president and have little confidence in either party or in Congress.
The landscape looks inhospitable for establishment candidates, such as Jeb Bush, who says illegal aliens crossing our border are engaging in an “act of love” and who is a proud and principal promoter of the Common Core curriculum being imposed on the nation’s schools.
Nor does the terrain seem favorable for former first lady Hillary Clinton. She is seen nationally, and not incorrectly, as the queen of the establishment, someone who banks six-figure fees for half-hour lectures.
If Jeb and Hillary are both in the lists in 2016, it will be God’s gift to pitchfork populists.
Pat Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.”