|David Brat was able to successfully paint House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as a Washington insider, and worse—one who nuzzles up to the hated Barack Obama. The reality of Eric Cantor would seem a far cry from this, but in this time of political pure-partisanship (and insanity), even an unfortunate photograph showing Cantor doing something other than slapping the President in the face, is counted as a Republican being Obama's lapdog. Photo from Brat's campaign website.|
But last night, in one of the clearest demonstrations that the GOP establishment is at the brink of being swept away forever, Republican House Majority Leader, Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), was soundly beaten in the Republican primary, for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.
The defeat of a Congressional leader in a primary is a rare thing, and it shows the depth of pure hatred the new GOP core of increasingly disaffected, white, male voters, has for any Republican who would compromise even a little bit with Democrats.
Cantor had been perceived as solidly conservative, much further to the right than Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), whom Cantor was widely expected to succeed as Speaker of the House. But the House Majority Leader had expressed a willingness to compromise on one issue the Tea Party rejects completely: immigration.
Cantor, along with the dwindling number of sane Republicans, had announced a willingness to discuss some kind of immigration reform this year, and the Majority Leader had tried to draft a reform bill, called the “Kids Act”, that recognized a path to citizenship for immigrants who had been brought illegally to the USA as children.
Cantor’s openness on this point was all it took for a little-known, and almost unfunded, Republican challenger, David Brat, to beat Cantor. Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, was backed by conservative talk-show host, Laura Ingraham, who recently said that the United States should have traded Eric Cantor to the Taliban for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
In a rally held last week in Virginia to help Brat, Ingraham summed up the Tea Party view of Cantor’s immigration betrayal:
“Who do you think Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi want to win this primary? They want Eric Cantor to win, because Eric Cantor is an ally in the biggest fight that will occur in the next six months in Washington... and that is the fight over immigration amnesty."The vote last night wasn’t even close: Brat, 55.55%, Cantor, 44.45%. And this was in spite of the fact that Cantor spent $5 million to his college professor opponent’s measly $200 thousand in the campaign. The disaster, for Cantor, will be studied for some time to figure exactly what happened and why.
Many establishment Republicans, for example Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe, are anxious to downplay the relevance of the immigration issue as being the thing that cost Cantor the election. But in doing this, Scarborough and other pundits are ignoring the main message of the Brat campaign, which was strongly focused on Cantor's efforts to pass immigration reform as being the most obvious weak point in the Majority Leader's claim to being a true conservative.
The question now, as the House Republicans try to deal with the shock of what has happened. is what, if anything, the GOP can do to conduct the business of the nation, which still must be done in concert with Democrats. Republicans run a very great risk now, if they show ant willingness to compromise on immigration for example, of angering an already furious Tea Party base of Republicans and independent voters. Indeed, most people this morning are figuring immigration reform is dead, possibly for years to come.
If, on the other hand, the House Republicans adopt a hardline stance against any compromise, they risk further angering the majority of Americans, who are more fed up with gridlock in Washington than they are a lack of ideological purity on the extreme right wing. And this is especially true on the issue of immigration, where a hardening of the Republican position, will further alienate Hispanic voters, the one, growing, demographic, the GOP cannot afford to push away.
Cantor’s defeat is not merely a sign the GOP may have a difficult time succeeding in its mission to expand its control over Congress this fall. It may be the first clear death-knell of the Republican Party as a substantial political player in the USA.