What was the lesson we were taught twice last week?
Once by Dave Brat, the congressional candidate who defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor?
And again by the insurgent forces of ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria?
This simple — but too often forgotten — lesson applies in North Carolina and throughout the world.
It is this: a committed minority can beat an unenthusiastic, unmotivated, unprepared majority.
In the case of Cantor’s loss, we have heard countless reasons to explain the result:
1. Brat bested him on the immigration issue by casting Cantor as a weak, inconsistent and unreliable opponent of immigration reform.
2. Cantor’s work in the Republican leadership distanced him from the concerns of his congressional district and made it easy to portray him as a Washington insider.
3. His efforts, meager as they might have been, to find common ground with Democrats made him more of a compromiser than many Tea Partiers and other conservatives could stomach.
These factors help explain the enthusiasm of Brat’s supporters and the lack of excitement among Cantor’s supporters.
Polls immediately before the elections showed Cantor with more support among likely voters than Brat, by a margin of 34 percent. The Washington Post reported, “The question in this race is how large Cantor’s margin of victory will be.”
Voter turnout in the primary was 13.7 percent.
If the polls were anywhere close to being correct, a lot of people who would have voted for Cantor did not care enough to take the time to vote for him.
Ironically, as strongly as Cantor has opposed President Obama, he would still be in power if he had followed Obama’s example of election campaigning. If he had spent his campaign funds to develop an Obama-like powerful ground game that identifies supporters and gets them to the polls, he, like Obama, would have survived to fight another day.
The specific lesson for politicians in North Carolina is clear. If the majority of voters in your district are in line with your beliefs, you still have to develop an active get-out-the-vote campaign to be sure that the voters who support you have reasons to be enthusiastic enough to get to the polls.
The lesson that a committed minority can beat an unenthusiastic majority also proved itself in Iraq last week. There, ISIS’s strong-willed Sunni militia completely routed the forces of the Iraqi government. Although a majority of Iraqi citizens may favor a moderate, progressive government with a nonsectarian approach, they do not back up that support with the same passion shown by the minority Sunni militia who took control of several important Iraqi cities.
Like Cantor’s supporters in Virginia, supporters of a united Iraq are staying at home. When their military forces are confronted by ISIS forces on the battlefield, they flee and run home.
In Afghanistan, both candidates in the recent presidential elections were supportive of a moderate national government. But the smart betting, or at least some of it, is on the minority insurgent forces because of the passion that they bring to their efforts.
It has happened before. In 1930s Germany, the Nazi party, a small but passionate minority, took charge of the country because other Germans did not care enough to fight them. In 1917 and 1918, a minority of the revolutionaries in the Russian revolution, the Bolsheviks, took charge when others lacked their passion and ruthlessness.
Whether you are a Virginian supporting Eric Cantor or an Iraqi or Afghani supporter of a moderate government, you cannot expect to win if your opponents bring more passion to the contest.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.