Can Raul Labrador capitalize on grassroots anti-establishment sentiment in GOP?

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) looks to have the votes for a bid to replace Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) as Republican House Majority Leader all sewn up. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), once McCarthy’s chief rival for the post, has already bowed out. But, as many commentators have already noted, McCarthy’s ascension to leadership in the House would be the ultimate expression by establishment Republicans that they do not understand the moment or the anxieties of average GOP voters.

HotAir’s Ed Morrissey noted on Friday that astute right-leaning political analysts like Philip Klein and Byron York have observed that the House GOP seems to have not internalized what Cantor’s primary loss means for the party.

“Cantor became part of the institutions rather than someone who could represent his district’s interests in contrast to them,” Morrissey wrote. “Cantor missed the populist swing in his district, and the House GOP seems to be missing it in general.”

A rather unflattering piece in Politico published on Thursday details how well-connected McCarthy is. And while that Beltway insider status makes for an effective Majority Leader – indeed, it is what made Cantor effective in that position – it also demonstrates why he is not the man for this populist moment.

Politico promoted this piece with one particularly devastating tweet:

Enter Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). The sophomore Republican representative, first elected in the 2010 tea party wave, began to float the notion on Thursday that he might step up and incur the wrath of House leadership by making a bid for Majority Leader.

Labrador speaks to both conservative and libertarian wings of the party. He is conservative on social issues and sufficiently populist on budgetary matters (he supported a problematic but popular balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, for example). While Labrador, as a former member of the “Group of Eight,” is pro-immigration reform, he is not rigidly so. After Cantor’s loss, he told reporters that even minor reforms to the country’s immigration system will not pass this year.

Moreover, he counters a media narrative about the Republican Party which McCarthy merely advances. A Puerto Rican by birth, Labrador speaks with a mild accent. An unfortunately prolific talking point about the GOP’s unfriendliness toward minorities, furthered by GOP primary voters jettisoning their only Jewish member in Congress, would be blunted by Labrador’s ascension to Majority Leader.

It is somewhat vexing that leadership votes in the body of government most responsive to the will of the people are not at all responsive to public sentiment. Labrador may not be able to overcome the House GOP’s unwillingness to comprehend the depth of apprehension Republican voters have toward Washington elites. If, however, Labrador can create a groundswell in his favor, that calculation might change.

The prospect of losing elections usually has a sobering effect on the political class. Many in Washington appear to have convinced themselves that Cantor’s defenestration was a fluke. Even if Labrador is unsuccessful in a potential bid for House leadership, the scare he would put into otherwise unresponsive GOP leaders would go a long way toward driving the lessons of Cantor’s loss home.