The stunning defeat of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia primary election by political newcomer and professor at Randolph-Macon College, Dave Brat, has left political pundits scratching their heads. No primary challenger has ever ousted a sitting House Majority Leader since the position was created in 1899.
Yet, the Sunday after his defeat, Cantor said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he will vote for Brat even though he campaigned against Cantor as an “ideological sell-out.” Cantor stressed the importance of keeping the Republican Party unified. He said it was a priority to keep his congressional seat in Republican hands. “I want a Republican to hold this seat. Of course. Of course,” Cantor said. “This is about making sure that we have a strong Republican majority in the House. I’m hopeful we’ll take it in the Senate, as well. I’m very optimistic about that.” He also said that Republican control of the House and Senate will provide a “real check” on the Obama administration.
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and echoing Cantor, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus “predicted that the GOP majority in the House will grow, adding that Senate control is within reach.” “I think this year is going to be a great year for our party,” he said. Despite the Cantor loss, the GOP is not divided “at all.”
Since Brat won his primary election, it has been pointed out that he claims to be “a free-market guy,” has written papers on Adam Smith, supports “the end of bulk phone and email data collection by the NSA,” has referred to the libertarian Cato Institute, acknowledges having been influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand and “appreciates Rand’s case for human freedom and free markets,” and is director of his Randolph-Macon College’s BB&T Moral Foundations of Capitalism program. But Brat also opposes current immigration-reform efforts, wants to “secure the border,” believes that allowing more people into America would “lower wage rates for the working person,” and maintains that “peace is best preserved through a strong national defense.”
The Cantor/Brat election is symbolic of a larger and more important question: Do political distinctions among Republicans mean that there is any philosophical difference between them? Does it really matter whether the 7th congressional district of Virginia is represented by Eric Cantor or Dave Brat? Does it really matter whether the House Majority Leader is Eric Cantor or the newly elected Kevin McCarthy?
When you ignore Republican pronouncements that they are the party of the Constitution; their mantra of “free enterprise, private property, and limited government”; and their libertarian rhetoric about the free market, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and less spending, and instead look at what they actually do — the legislation they introduce, support, and pass; the causes they champion; and the actions they take when they exercise control over one or more parts of the government — what you find are distinctions without differences.
Consider just these ten issues:
1. Education. Republicans may criticize education policies such as the Common Core curriculum and even No Child Left Behind (a Republican program), but have no philosophical objection to federal regulation, oversight, or funding of education, student loans, and school lunch programs.
2. The welfare state. Republicans are welfare statists just like Democrats. They continually vote to fund welfare programs such as food stamps, WIC, Head Start, TANF, and Section 8 housing vouchers. Republicans have no philosophical objection to the federal government’s maintaining a safety net or fighting poverty by transferring wealth from one American to another.
3. Social Security. Republicans don’t even consider Social Security to be welfare, even though it is nothing but an intergenerational, income-transfer, wealth-redistribution welfare program. Republicans have no philosophical objection to the federal government’s instituting a retirement, disability, survivorship, and death plan and forcing all Americans to participate in it.
4. The warfare state. Republicans are above all warfare statists. Cutting the bloated defense budget is inconceivable. The thought of closing any overseas military base is unthinkable. Bringing all of the troops home is unimaginable. Republicans have no philosophical objection to imposing sanctions on, bombing, invading, occupying, or intervening in any country.
5. The national security state. Republicans are the primary defenders of the national security state. After all, they created the Homeland Security agency. The current criticism of some Republicans of the NSA would never occur under a Republican administration. Republicans have no philosophical objection to the NSA, CIA, or any of the fifteen other agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community that spies on the whole world and works mischief throughout it.
6. Foreign aid. Republicans express their opposition to foreign aid only selectively. They may call for foreign aid to a particular country to be temporarily cut or eliminated, but Republicans have no philosophical objection to taking billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers and giving the money to foreign governments, NGOs, privileged foreign contractors, or crony capitalists in the United States.
7. The drug war. Republicans are ardent drug warriors. They may talk about individual liberty, free markets, and private property, but they believe in nothing of the kind when it comes to drugs. And although they may occasionally give lip service to medical marijuana and the Tenth Amendment, Republicans have no philosophical objection to the FDA, DEA, or the federal government’s regulating or prohibiting certain substances.
8. Health care. Republicans are incessant in their opposition to Obamacare. But that does not mean that they favor a real free market in health care, the complete separation of medicine from the state, the complete deregulation of the health-insurance industry, or the establishment of medical freedom. Republicans have no philosophical objection to actual government health-care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
9. Freedom of speech. Republicans tout the Citizens United case as a victory for free speech, though campaign financing has nothing to do with speech. But when it comes to actual speech, Republicans have no philosophical objection to the government’s regulating speech by means of the “free speech zones” that were instituted during the Bush administration.
10. Government spending. Republicans had absolute control of the government for more than four years under the presidency of George W. Bush. Yet during his administration, government spending skyrocketed, the national debt almost doubled, and the federal deficit exceeded $1 trillion for the first time. The most recent Republican budget, which was opposed by only 12 Republicans in the Republican-controlled House, proposes to increase spending and increase the debt. Republicans have no philosophical objection to spending billions of taxpayer dollars on thousands of departments, agencies, grants, and programs that are not warranted by the Constitution.
And those are just ten issues.
It should come as no surprise that Cantor says he will vote for Brat. To Republicans, limited government means a government limited to control by Republicans. Regardless of their political distinctions, there are no philosophical differences between them. And the RNC chairman is right — the GOP is not divided either. Virtually the entire party is dedicated to the welfare/warfare/national-security/nanny/police state; economic fascism; the U.S. empire; foreign wars; a reckless, belligerent, and meddling “American exceptionalism” foreign policy; and the war on individual liberty and private property known as the war on drugs.
Republicans are not an alternative to Democrats. They are not the “better” party. They are not even the lesser of two evils. They are not “libertarian-leaning.” They are not the party of the Constitution. They are not the party of fiscal conservatism. And they certainly are not for free enterprise, private property, and limited government. Distinctions among Republicans are without real differences.