Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty-four hours, you know by now that Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, lost his primary election last night to a little-known college professor named David Brat. This was a shocking upset, one that no one saw coming. So ever since news broke about Cantor’s defeat at roughly around 8 P.M. last night, the Beltway media has been trying to get to the bottom of just why exactly someone like him, someone so well-connected and established, lost to someone like David Brat, who spent less on his campaign than Cantor spent on steaks.
The official narrative is that Cantor lost because he was too “moderate” (from a Republican point of view, at least) on immigration, that he didn’t spend enough time in his district, and that the conservative base was sick and tired of someone it saw as a sellout. And while there is a lot of truth to that narrative - just check out any right wing blog and you’ll see what I mean - it misses the bigger picture of what’s really going on here.
One of the reasons - if not the biggest reason - Eric Cantor lost was that he totally underestimated the dark money machine that was the real force behind David Brat campaign. The media is making it seem like Brat was some sort of underdog, but in reality, he’s strapped to the hilt with billionaire support and billionaire money.
In fact, you could argue that he pretty much owes his job to people like the Koch brothers and their cronies. John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T bank and the current head of the Koch-founded Cato Institute, gave Brat's college a $500,000 fellowship back in 2010 so he could teach Ayn Rand and libertarianism at Randolph Macon University.
Like hundreds of other college professors across the country these days, David Brat is really just a bought-and-paid-for shill of Charles and David Koch and their buddies. But the connections between Brat and the dark money machine don’t stop there. He was also the hand-picked candidate of the Koch-backed world of right-wing media.
Over the past few months, right-wing talkers like Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin have been pushing Brat and attacking Cantor non-stop on their radio shows. Ingraham even went so far as to say that she wished that President Obama traded Eric Cantor to the Taliban in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl.
Laura and Mark are both on the populist end of the Republican Party, so it’s not all that surprising that they would want to see Brat take down Cantor. But since both of them have taken a lot of money from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity over the past few years, there’s good reason to be suspicious of why they’ve been pushing so hard specifically for Brat.
As Politico reported a few months ago in what should have been a blockbuster story but was ignored by the mainstream media,
“[F]ilings with the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission, as well as interviews and reviews of radio shows, found that conservative groups spent nearly $22 million to broker and pay for involved advertising relationships known as sponsorships with a handful of influential talkers including Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh ... Since then, the sponsorship deals have grown more lucrative and tea party-oriented...”
Levin alone apparently took about $757,000 from the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity over the 2012 election cycle, and if Politico’s report is accurate, he’s still taking money from them. And while we don’t really know specifics about just how much money Ingraham is taking from conservative groups, we do know that she is or at least was taking money from them, which could go a long way towards explaining why she was so enthusiastic to back David Brat over Eric Cantor.
Once you’ve realized that David Brat wasn’t just some random college professor but was actually the hand-picked candidate of the libertarian billionaire class and its army of talk radio hosts, it’s easy to see another one of the major reasons Eric Cantor lost. We’re living in a brave new world of dark money politics, and in this day and age, doing what Eric Cantor did - hanging out with the Chamber of Commerce, K Street, and Wall Street - only gets you so far. If you want to win these days, you need to win the support of the Kochs, their libertarian billionaire friends, and their allies in the talk radio world.
Sure, working the Kochs doesn’t always work out - Matt Bevin failed miserably in Kentucky - but when the situation is right and you have a weak, really unpopular candidate like Cantor to run against, it works like a charm.
Don’t kid yourselves. David Brat’s victory wasn’t a fluke; it was a test run. The Kochs and their cronies now have a blueprint for how to beat establishment Republicans all across the country. For them, the revolution has just begun.
Ultimately, the only way to stop this dark money revolution is to get money out of politics and pass a constitutional amendment that says that corporations aren’t people and that money isn’t speech. But in the meantime, progressive billionaires and foundations might want to talk a note from what conservatives are doing and start putting money into progressive television like Free Speech TV and progressive talk radio.
The left's only chance to stop the Koch revolution, at least over the short term, might be to try and beat them at their own game.