Pretty much everyone on both sides of the mediasphere/punditocracy was shocked by last night’s defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by David Brat.
Here’s a quick roundup on thoughts and reactions to Cantor’s defeat:
The media will play up Cantor’s loss by claiming it was about immigration. They will be wrong, but it will be useful for the rest of us. Immigration reform is now DOA in the House of Representatives thanks to David Brat.
But Cantor really did not lose because of immigration alone. Immigration was the surface reason that galvanized the opposition to Cantor, but the opposition could not have been galvanized with this issue had Cantor been a better congressman these past few years.
He and his staff have repeatedly antagonized conservatives. One conservative recently told me that Cantor’s staff were the “biggest bunch of a**holes on the Hill.” An establishment consultant who backed Cantor actually agreed with this assessment. That attitude moved with Cantor staffers to K Street, the NRSC, and elsewhere generating ill will toward them and Cantor. Many of them were perceived to still be assisting Cantor in other capacities. After Cantor’s loss tonight, I got a high volume of emails from excited conservatives, but also more than a handful of emails from those with establishment Republican leanings all expressing variations on “good riddance.”
Cantor’s constituent services moved more toward focusing on running the Republican House majority than his congressional district. K Street, the den of Washington lobbyists, became his chief constituency.
“Cantor lost his race because he was running for Speaker of the House of Representatives while his constituents wanted a congressman.”
The American Conservative Union has long been a mouthpiece of the Republican Establishment and in the past few years has basically been K-Street’s conservatives. Their scorecard reflects the Republican-ness of a member of congress far more than the conservativeness of a member of congress. Just consider that Mitch McConnell was considered more conservative in 2012 than either Jim DeMint or Tom Coburn.
In contrast to the American Conservative Union, Heritage Action for America takes a more comprehensive approach to its scorecard, it does not try to help Republican leadership look good, and is a better barometer of a congressman’s conservativeness. The ACU had Eric Cantor at a 95%. Heritage Action for America has him at 53%.
Republican consultants are really pissed they’ve invested all this time in ass kissing staffers who suddenly aren’t powerful.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) June 11, 2014
Because [Cantor] didn’t have to worry too much about getting re-elected every two years, his political ambition was channeled into rising through the hierarchy of the House leadership. Rise he did, all the way up to the #2 spot, and he was waiting in the wings to become Speaker of the House.
The result was that Cantor’s real constituency wasn’t the folks back home. His constituency was the Republican leadership and the Republican establishment. That’s who he really answered to.
Guess what? Folks in the seventh district figured that out.
That, ladies and gentlemen, was Eric Cantor: the soul of an establishment machine politician, with the “messaging” of the small-government conservatives grafted uneasily on top of it.
So yes, you can now tear up all those articles pronouncing the death of the Tea Party movement, because this is the essence of what the Tea Party is about: letting the establishment know that they have to do more than offer lip service to a small-government agenda, that we expect them to actually mean it. Or as Dave Brat put it in one of his frenzied post-victory interviews, “the problem with the Republican principles is that nobody follows them.”
I would have settled for his challenger, Dave Brat, getting more than 40%. I was all ready to (legitimately) spin that as a warning shot across Cantor’s bow. Instead, Brat went and actually beat Cantor–decisively, by 10 points, 55% to 45%. He and his campaign manager Zachary Werrell obviously ran a very effective race with minimal resources–against Cantor’s millions. Independent anti-Cantor actors like the We Deserve Better group — and various local conspiracies we don’t even know about — probably played a role as well.
But the main issue in the race was immigration. It’s what Brat emphasized, and what his supporters in the right wing media (Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin) emphasized. It’s the charge Cantor defended against—by conceding the issue and posing as a staunch amnesty opponent. But Cantor had signed onto the GOP’s pro-amnesty “principles” and endorsed a poll-tested but irresponsibly sweeping amnesty for children (a “founding principle” of the country, he said). Brat opposed all this, even as illegal immigrant children were surging across the border in search of a Cantor-style deal.
Brat won this immigration debate. Cantor lost. It’s basically that simple.
Kaus also notes that it puts a stake in the heart of MSM “Republicans are really OK with amnesty” BS.
Those conservatives, suddenly smelling blood in the water, might now be emboldened to push for a wholesale change in leadership—ousting Boehner and McCarthy in this November’s conference elections, and entering the next Congress with a new top three.
“It should frighten everyone in leadership,” one conservative House Republican, who exchanged text messages on condition of anonymity, said shortly after Cantor’s defeat was official. “They haven’t been conservative enough. We’ve told them that for 3 years. They wouldn’t listen.”
The GOP lawmaker added: “Maybe they will listen now.”