Virginia vs. the Tea Party

Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) stopped by my college on Monday morning for a couple of Q&A sessions with students. (He's a Macon alum; so Bob Lindgren's half-joking reference to R-MC as the "cradle of congressmen" has at least some basis in reality.)

To his credit, Forbes answered student questions without really gloating over the Republicans' big electoral win last week. Instead, the surprising news from his visit was Forbes essentially calling for another stimulus package, arguing that we need to ramp up defense spending considerably in order to protect American interests abroad.

OK, so this isn't breaking news; Forbes has been beating this drum for a while, and even has a whole section of his website devoted to "Strong Defense, Strong America" data and arguments. Along with Democrat Bobby Scott, Forbes represents the Norfolk/VA Beach area, where many people live off of naval defense contracts. Defense spending is a big issue for the state's economy in general; Northern VA has been called a "mecca for military contractors."

Still, Forbes' message seemed somewhat jarring in our own 7th Congressional District, where my (former) colleague Dave Brat was elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility. Brat seems likely to join the Tea Party caucus, and that wing of the GOP will likely feel emboldened by the big GOP win this year. That doesn't seem like a great environment to push for more spending, even in a traditionally Republican-supported area like the defense budget.

Forbes also noted that the loss of Eric Cantor, plus the retirements of Frank Wolf and Jim Moran, really challenges the Virginia delegation's ability to push the state's interests in Washington. Now that he's one of the longer-tenured members of that delegation, Forbes has his work cut out for him.

It remains to be seen how internal Republican dynamics will play out. But next year might bring more infighting between the Tea Party/Brat wing and Republican "establishment" types like Forbes.