The big news this evening is that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary to Tea Party challenger David Brat. Needless to say, this is an absolutely shocking development.
Part of the reason for the loss appears to have to do with the fact that Cantor’s responsibilities as House majority leader meant that he did not have enough time or resources to ensure that his own district continued to like him. Congressional leaders are exceedingly powerful people with national responsibilities, but obviously, one of the dangers of being a congressional leader with national responsibilities is that one may end up losing touch with one’s leadership. That appears to have happened to Cantor. Additionally, Cantor may have inadvertently given Brat some publicity by slamming Brat in negative advertisements. Perhaps it would have done Cantor more good to have ignored Brat from the outset.
But there may have been policy reasons behind Cantor’s loss, and this is where everyone concerned about the Republican party’s ability to reach out to diverse constituencies had better grab the nearest sick bag. Because the following will make you ill:
“This is an earthquake,” said former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, a friend of Cantor’s. “No one thought he’d lose.” But Brat, tapping into conservative anger over Cantor’s role in supporting efforts to reform federal immigration laws, found a way to combat Cantor’s significant financial edge.
“Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment,” said L. Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, a conservative group that targeted Cantor throughout the primary. “The grassroots is in revolt and marching.”
[. . .]
Brat, an economics professor, was not considered a major threat until Tuesday night, simply failing to show up to D.C. meetings with powerful conservative agitators last month, citing upcoming finals. He only had $40,000 in the bank at the end of March, according to first quarter filings. Cantor had $2 million.
But there were early signs of trouble. Brat exposed discontent with Cantor in the solidly Republican, suburban Richmond 7th Congressional District by attacking the lawmaker on his votes to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown, as well as his support for some immigration reforms. At a May meeting of Republican activists in the district, Cantor was booed, and an ally he campaigned for was ousted as the local party chairman in favor of a tea party favorite.
So, to sum up, Cantor may have lost because he realized that the Tea Party position on raising the debt ceiling and the government shutdown was bad policy and bad politics, and because he may have wanted to try to reform an absolutely insane immigration system–an effort that might have helped Republicans appeal to different constituencies and adapt to the country’s changing demographics.
And I am supposed to be pleased with this development?
Stephen Bainbridge has an appropriate reply to this latest one-bullet-for-every-toe-and-two-bullets-for-each-big-toe moment for the GOP. And like him, I am with Russell Kirk in my disdain for the New Populism. It promotes bad policies and it severely hampers the ability of Republicans to win general elections. No Republican who cares about the long term interests of the party should be happy with the current state of affairs, and far too many Republicans will learn that lesson far too late. If anyone wondered what it would be like if the GOP were seized by its own version of McGovernites, wonder no more.