Drew Cline: Eric Cantor, 'Game of Thrones,' and the selling of NH politics
U.S. HOUSE MAJORITY Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on Tuesday lost his primary election, Game of Thrones-style. The previously unknown challenger, David Brat, an economics professor who rode into battle under the Tea Party banner, emerged victorious, leaving the House of Boehner horrified, the audience stunned, and his name echoing throughout the land. The next morning, about 550 miles up the king’s highway (I-95), New Hampshire politicians and political operatives worked Cantor’s defeat into their own narratives, ending the blood bath with a bit of comic relief.
In less than 24 hours, the Legend of David Brat had already been spun by every political hack with Internet access and a healthy dose of ambition. Like so many legends, its real meaning — if there was any — was unimportant. All that mattered was how it could be shaped to fit the narrative of the partisan in whose hands the tale would be retold.
The New Hampshire Democratic Party wasted no time portraying it as an ill omen for Scott Brown. At 10:41 Tuesday night, the party released a statement from Chairman Ray Buckley asserting that the “results out of Virginia confirm what we all know: today’s GOP is the party of the Koch Brothers and the Tea Party. This foreshadows bad news for Scott Brown and Walt Havenstein, who will have to spend the next few months pandering to the Tea Party in order to advance their primary politics....”
Of course, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., easily defeated a Tea Party challenger in a statewide race on the same day, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defeated one last month, but what are facts when there is legend to be created?
Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Bob Smith, who has carried a string of political banners in his career, depending on which suited him at the moment, announced that Cantor’s loss was an “ominous sign for Scott Brown and the establishment.”
Said Smith, who could be cast as a “Game of Thrones” character: “The loss is a clear indication that when conservatives unite and stick to the principles of the Republican platform, we win.” That would be the Republican Party that he renounced not so long ago. Little-known Dan Innis, running for the GOP nomination in the 1st District, issued a statement comparing his GOP opponent, Frank Guinta, to Eric Cantor, and saying he looks forward to working with David Brat in the House. Never mind that Innis, no Tea Partier, has a history of supporting Democrats. Then there was Scott Brown’s campaign, which announced that Cantor’s loss should prove “worrisome” for Jeanne Shaheen. Though the New Hampshire Democratic Party had already spun the Cantor loss into a preposterous attack on Brown, it naturally mocked the Brown campaign’s news release as absurd. But of all the references to the Cantor defeat, the Brown campaign’s was the most plausible. It listed five reasons why Shaheen should be worried, including her support for immigration reform, her position as a Washington insider closely tied to President Obama, and Brown’s tireless campaigning. A stretch (New Hampshire is not the 7th District of Virginia), but not a completely ridiculous one.
Not to be left out, U.S. Senate candidate Jim Rubens called Brat’s win “an air raid siren loud enough to be heard even through the Washington establishment’s tin ear” and claimed Brat’s mantle as a grassroots candidate taking it to the establishment.
In “Game of Thrones,” everyone lies. Survival depends on it. In politics, everyone spins. Survival depends on it, or so the spinners believe. In New Hampshire, none of the spinners seems to have considered that the polished Eric Cantor’s loss to a straight-talking economist might mean that voters are sick to death of being spun.
Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and a supporter of House Stark. He can be followed on Twitter @Drewhampshire.