Anecdotal evidence, the basis of so much journalism prior to the rise of the data movement and still, to my mind, over-relied upon — is just that: anecdotal. Roughly 65,000 people voted in the Cantor-Brat primary; Brat won by more than 7,200 votes. Assuming that what a non-scientific sample of 1, 10 or even 100 people in the district thought about Cantor (or Brat) in the run-up to the race — the shoe-leather reporting prized by Carr — was indicative of how 65,000 people were planning to vote seems to me to be somewhat misguided. (Now, if all 100 people a reporter talked to in the district loudly derided Cantor as an out of step liberal, then I take back my previous point. But, my guess is that wouldn’t have happened.)
— Should I have seen Eric Cantor’s loss coming?, Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, today
I assume that Cillizza is, as he says, responding to New York Times writer David Carr’s column on Monday, “Eric Cantor’s Defeat Exposed a Beltway Journalism Blind Spot,” rather than also to, say, my AB post from Wednesday, in which I discuss Carr’s column and note that what the national news media missed, but what the local political reporters Carr mentions recognized, was not simply local antagonism toward Cantor but, to an apparently substantial extent, local antagonism toward Cantor because he is the very embodiment of the politician who shares John Roberts’ particular view, stated expressly in his opinion two months ago in McCutcheon v. FEC, of who or what a politician’s “constituent” is.
In my post on Wednesday (picked up in full elsewhere, I’m glad to see), I noted that the in-depth analysis of it by political several political journalists now that the post-Canter-defeat dust has settled is that critical to Brat’s victory was an anti-plutocracy theme and that Cantor provided the perfect foil for it. Most of the articles discussing this say that the Chamber of Commerce–an explicit target of Brat’s during the campaign, and other major players among the Republican business constituency, who Roberts described in McCutcheon as constituents entitled to secretly help draft legislation by dint of their ability to purchase that right, concur and are springing into action. As Gail Collins summarized it in her New York Times column yesterday:
The defeat of the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, terrified many of the party establishment’s supporters, particularly since Cantor’s opponent ran against Wall Street, big business and bank bailouts.
It’s a problem, if you’re a big-money donor, to be worried that your party is being taken over by crazy people who will alienate the voters in a national election by opposing immigration reform and contraception. It’s a catastrophe to be worried that it’s being taken over by economic populists.
Cillizza and, I suspect, a number of other professional political analysts remain wedded to what is quickly becoming an outdated model. They’re missing some important handwriting on the wall, which is that huge swaths of the public are dismayed at the meaning of “constituency” and “democracy” as defined in the New Dictionary of Supreme Court English, edited by Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. As I said in my Wednesday post:
Call McCutcheon v. FEC the new poll tax. I do. After all, John Roberts, in a surprising bit of honesty, described it in his opinion for the majority as pretty much that in his opinion in that case earlier this year. “Ingratiation and access . . . are not corruption,” he wrote, quoting Anthony Kennedy’s the Court’s decision in Citizens United, and then explained:
“They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”
But Cantor’s constituents–the ones that Roberts says should dictate Cantor’s policy positions and write legislation he proposes–couldn’t vote in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District last week. The district is too far away for them to commute to Wall Street, or to Wichita, KS, or downtown Houston, or Raleigh, NC. And surprisingly, it turns out that Brat actually ran what was in large part a progressive economic-populist–an anti-plutocracy–campaign highlighting who exactly Cantor’s constituents (to borrow Roberts’ term) are. So, now that that is being widely reported and is sinking in, hedge-fund types and the Chamber of Commerce crowd apparently indeed are starting to pray.
Apart from the obvious reason for the definitional chasm between Roberts & Co. and most people embedded in that statement by Roberts–specifically, the definition of “democracy”–add to the rapidly growing list of Roberts’ casual redefinitions of common words this new definition of “constituent,” one disembodied from residency in the candidate or officeholder’s actual election jurisdiction.
Cantor was beaten, in substantial part, it certainly appears, by Citizens United and McCutcheon–by a backlash toward the political system that is now, bizarrely but expressly, institutionalized as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence. Turnout was very heavy, far heavier than it was in the primary in that district two years ago, when apparently all the candidates were fine, thank you very much, with poll-tax democracy.
I titled that post “David Brat, et al. v. John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Commerce, et al.” And in the last two paragraphs, I elaborated upon the title, writing:
Brat, for his part, appears to be about to run a general-election campaign consisting mainly of slogans and non sequiturs. No surprise, of course; slogans, cliches, non sequiturs are the very essence of the current Republican Party–both factions of the Tea Party/Republican Party. The Paul Ryan/Koch brothers/Chamber of Commerce faction and also, because of the mutual exclusivity of its premises, the (newly named) David Brat faction. That’s simply the nature of this beast.
But the divorce case originally known as Movement Conservatives v. Movement Conservatives, filed June 10, 2014 in the Richmond, Virginia Court of Public Opinion, is a class action. I just checked the docket for the case, and it’s now called Movement Conservatives, et al. v. Movement Conservatives. And already, there have been several amicus briefs filed on behalf of the petitioners. And the Supreme Court may not decide the outcome of it after all.
That last sentence is true; the Supreme Court has lost control of the narrative on this. It has tried, but unsuccessfully, to decree new non-legal definitions of “corruption,” “democracy,” “constituent,” “person,” and “speech.” It is losing its case in the courts of public opinion in most jurisdictions around the country; that much already is clear. But the Court will decide, very possibly–in other litigation; actual imminent litigation, in Wisconsin state court and very possibly in federal court–whether or not two key provisions of Wisconsin state, and of still-standing federal, campaign-finance statutes violate five Supreme Court justices’ view of the First Amendment within the peculiar prism of their definitions of those words.
Best as I can tell from news reports in the last 24 hours, the apparently forthcoming state prosecution of a few people involved on behalf of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican state legislators in the Wisconsin recall elections in 2011 and 2012, and perhaps of Walker himself, will necessarily involve challenges by the defendants to the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s (and possibly eventually to the federal government’s) statutory prohibitions against consort between election campaigns and PACs purporting to be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” and unaffiliated with a political party or candidate.
The PACs are not subject to donor-amount limits, and they also can qualify for non-profit tax status if they meet a low bar for what constitutes “exclusively for the promotion of social welfare”.
But whether operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, as “social welfare” is defined by most people, or instead as it will be defined in New Dictionary of Supreme Court English, these groups embody a central feature of democracy as defined in the April 2, 2014 edition of that Dictionary—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns. And Scott Walker and the Republican legislators who were subject to possible recall adopted the very definition of “constituent” included in the current edition of the New Dictionary. Most of the people and groups with which they appear to have been coordinating were Walker’s and the legislators’ constituents only in the newly defined sense. They were not residents of Wisconsin and therefore could not show a valid photo ID at a polling place in Wisconsin. (They would have to vote by absentee ballot.)
But Walker & Friends still remain a bit too precocious in one respect. The Court’s majority has not yet redefined “democracy” to include as a central feature a First Amendment right of constituents (under either definition, traditional or new) to hide their identity when contributing directly to a political campaign. And it well may not do so. Kennedy indicated in his opinion in Citizens United that he does not believe that secret donations to campaigns embody a central feature of democracy. Uh-oh.
Ultimately, though, what matters most is the outcome that civil litigation, Movement Conservatives, et al. v. Movement Conservatives, because not all five of the current editors of the New Dictionary are young and healthy–and because of the political facts illustrated by the surprisingly high turnout in the open primary in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District and the predominant campaign theme of the winner. But I don’t expect Chris Cillizza to get that.