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Richard Greener Headshot

Eric Cantor's Defeat - The Tyranny of the Tiny Few

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There are almost 320 million of us and very few Americans care deeply enough about our own government to actively participate in choosing our representatives. Most of us simply don't give a damn. The result -- we have opened ourselves to the tyranny of the tiny few.

Chances are, if more Americans really cared about who was in government and who wasn't, who represented us and who didn't, Eric Cantor might have easily won his primary and would just as easily be reelected to Congress this coming November. I am no supporter of his. Like the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, I have no sympathy for Eric Cantor. But, the facts show that only a tiny number of Americans really care who wins, who loses, who's in and who's out. Cantor lost because so few care, and rule by so small a number is a step toward tyranny.

In Eric Cantor's winning 2012 campaign in the 7th Congressional District in Virginia he got 222,983 votes. The Virginia 7th has a population of 757,912. Of that total, 381,909 voted in that election. That may seem like a lot of voters, but the total number of registered voters in the district is 512,391. Why would 130,482 people take the time and go to the trouble to register to vote and then not show up on Election Day? Instead of the 58 percent of the vote that Cantor got, we should look at his vote total against the number of registered voters. Here Cantor's win represented the approval of only 43.4 percent of the people eligible to vote in his district. So it was, that a distinct minority of Virginia's 7th District voters actually sent Mr. Cantor back to Congress in 2012.

In the primary just concluded, the losing Eric Cantor received 28,898 votes. We can ask: what happened to the 194,085 voters who, a mere 19 months ago, voted for him? Has his performance in the House been such a great disappointment? It does seem unlikely that any man could lose that much support so quickly? Perhaps all those previous Cantor voters, all 194,085 of them, rose up to cast their ballots this time for the nearly unknown challenger, Professor David Brat. No. No they did not. That is not what happened. Mr. Brat beat Mr. Cantor by getting only 36,110 votes. And that's 7,211 more votes than he needed to win. The total turnout for the Republican primary was barely 67,000 voters. We're still looking for those 194,085 recent 2012 Cantor voters. Where were they on Primary night? It appears they just didn't vote, not for Cantor, and not for Brat. They didn't vote for anybody. They stayed home.

Maybe an analysis of Cantor's voter history will show he's been traditionally weak. Eric Cantor was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2000. He's been reelected six times. All told, in his seven winning campaigns Eric Cantor has averaged more than 185,000 votes in the General Election, always winning his district handily against the Democratic Party opponent. Looks like there is no way anyone could say he's been weak in his own district. How could it be that only 28,899 votes were needed to defeat Cantor in the primary election? Mr. Brat's total of 36,110 could not win a General Election for Congress in any of the 435 Congressional Districts spread across the country. In 2012 Mr. Cantor's defeated opponent, the Democrat E. Wayne Powell, was the choice of 158,012 voters in the 7th District. That's a lot more votes than Mr. Brat's 36,110, and it was far short of Mr. Cantor's winning number. The question to be asked about the primary is: where did all the voters go?

Looks like the pundits are all wrong, again. Looks like all the analysis is once more misplaced and incorrect. Eric Cantor did not lose to a Tea Party groundswell. 36,110 votes is nobody's groundswell, not in any election for any office. This was not a Republican revolt against some vaguely referred to House immigration reform bill. No "message" has been sent to the GOP. The answer to why Cantor lost, and especially why he was defeated by an unknown candidate who had almost no money to spend, is simple -- very few Americans care enough about our government to take the time and expend the effort to participate in this democracy. Too few eligible voters vote -- period.

The 36,110 David Brat voters, people who left their homes, went to a polling place and cast their ballot, they proved that a tiny percent of Americans can take control from the vast remainder of us who simply don't give a damn, certainly not enough of a damn to go vote. Professor Brat owes his nomination and his certain election to Congress in the fall to the vote of a minuscule 4.7 percent of the people living in the 7th Congressional District of Virginia. I believe Thomas Jefferson would not be pleased.

It's unlikely that Brat will be the only member of Congress so elected, so chosen by the smallest percentage of their district's population. If anyone is to blame for having our Congress chuck-full of members who cannot claim a real popular mandate, it is us. If we don't care enough to vote we have no credibility complaining about who does, who wins, and who serves. Those few who do care have free license to win wherever it is they mobilize. We should all fear for the political health of a nation whose people, in such large numbers, care so little about their own government they unwittingly lead us to the tyranny of the tiny few.