Is it a Fluke, or a Harbinger? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Loses to Political Outsider

Is it a Fluke, or a Harbinger? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Loses to Political Outsider June 11, 2014

Eric Cantor, the Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, lost his primary battle to retain his seat to a political newcomer yesterday.

Congressman Cantor, who came into the race with massive campaign funding and the weight of incumbency behind him, lost to Dave Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College. Brat raised the comparatively scanty sum of $200,000 for the race. In contrast, special interest groups poured money into Cantor’s campaign, which spent over $5.4 million. The American Chemistry Council, which represents a group of blue-chip corporations,  spent over $300,000 on ads for Cantor by themselves.

It is not often that an incumbent loses. It is also not often when the candidate with the least amount of money — in this case, a great deal less money — wins.

Early news reports seem to be giving the Tea Party movement the credit for Brat’s win. It is reported that Brat campaigned as an outsider running against an insider who, according to Brat, was not conservative enough. The fact that the election was a Republican primary instead of a general election makes that plausible.

Brat used high profile endorsements, such as one by radio personality Laura Ingraham, to counter the money factor in the race. He also campaigned against Cantor’s support for a more moderate position on immigration.

Apparently, the political deep-thinkers in Washington failed to see this coming. According to the New York Times, the only question along the beltway was how high Cantor’s victory margin would be. Congressman Cantor himself seems not to have realized how serious the challenge was until just a short time before the election.

The cherry on top of what must have been a miserable night for Congressman Cantor and his supporters came when a group of pro immigration reform demonstrators burst into the campaign gathering just a few minutes after he had made his concession speech. The irony in that needs no explaining.

What does all this mean in the larger arena?

The deciding factor in the impact this stunning turnover will have on the Republican Party as a whole and, through it, the American political landscape, depends on whether or not it was a fluke or a harbinger. What, if anything, does it say about other races later this year?

Congressman Cantor was so sure that he was going to win that he made the mistake of not taking his opponent seriously. He didn’t get the news that he was in trouble until just a few weeks before the votes were cast. He walked into the punch with his arms at his side. Hubris beat Representative Eric Cantor every bit as much as Dave Brat did.

His colleagues are now forewarned. One certain effect this election is going to have is that no incumbent will make the mistake of ignoring an underfunded, seemingly insignificant opponent. I doubt very much if we see other races like this one where the incumbent just la-la-las his way through the campaign until the last few weeks.

Will that save them? I would guess that it depends on the district and how blatantly the Congressperson has sold out their constituents to special interests, in particular special interests whose program is anathema to the people they represent.

The Republican voters of Virginia just chose a man as their nominee who doesn’t owe the corporatist interests that control their party his soul. In doing so, they tossed out a man who was owned by those interests to the tune of $5.4 million.

Mr Brat’s acceptance speech was a rousing statement of voter empowerment. If he makes it past the Democrat in the fall, a question that will likely be resolved by the configuration of the district, we’ll get a look at who he is in power.

Will he be able to stay the same guy once he meets all his new best friends and gets a taste of the perks, flattery and pressures of actual political office?

I’m sure that the calls from what was surely a rather flummoxed Republican Party began last night as they moved to pick up the pieces and head toward the general election. The other calls, which are forerunners of the full-bore flattery and stroking that will begin if he wins in November, began right along with them.

Will this election result in at least one independent member of Congress who thinks for himself and does not check with special interests before he wipes his political nose? I hope so.

No matter his politics, that would be a refreshing change.

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11 responses to “Is it a Fluke, or a Harbinger? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Loses to Political Outsider”

  1. Cantor, even at his best, never impressed me. I could never figure out how he became majority leader. Personally i think the change will be for the better. But was this a fluke? We won’t know until the exit polls come out, but my first gut reaction is yes it’s a fluke. The Tea Party may be taking credit, but from what I understand they didn’t give any support to Brat. The turnout was small and it appears Cantor didn’t get his base out for a primary in the middle of June. What is not a fluke is that there is a disconnect between Wash DC and the rest of the country, irrespective of parties. Actually now that I think of it, my gut reaction might be wrong. The British and Euro elections where the Non-elitist conservatives (for lack of a better term) scored big also shows a disconnect. Non-Elitist Conservatism is on the rise! (For the record, I consider myself an elitist Conservative, but a cleansing process from the non-elitist might just be a good thing.)

  2. gun owners of america “blanket” called the district on monday. i live in indiana. my guess is that they called every goa member in the district. goa is against immigration reform. they see it as a gun control move. they are correct. i support immigration reform.

    goa people respect larry pratt. i would be hard pressed to not vote as he asks. now as for as the nra i really don’t know who is running it. pratt is in this for the members, the people. nra is in it for the gun industry, not us. i listen to pratt not the nra.

    peaceup raz

  3. I will admit that I am enjoying watching the prognosticators as they scratch their collective heads and try to figure out what happened. I read a brief commentary focusing on how Rep. Cantor simply lost touch with the people of his district. He forgot the most basic thing for a Representative; he didn’t spend enough time with the people he was representing, which is especially hard to excuse since most of that district is no more than a 2 1/2- 3 hour drive from DC. A warning came when he was reportedly booed at a town hall meeting a month ago, but even so, everyone assumed he would still win.

    As a interesting side note, I hear that Dave Brat will be running against another professor who teaches at the same college.

  4. I notice in my neck of the woods, it’s already had the effect of Democrat Senator Jeff Merkely running mud slinging adverts trying to paint his opponent as an “establishment Republican”- right after the primary and 5 months in advance of the election.

  5. Rebecca and anyone else interested. What is commonly known about David Brat is that he is a PhD economics professor. What seems to be less known is that he has a Master’s in Theology as well and is very much interested in the relationship between economics and religion, especially Christianity. He is also Roman Catholic. Here is an article that fleshes out his thoughts on both. He just might have the same notions on the subjects as I do.

    He seems to think along the same lines I do. Of course I’m not a theologian or an economics professor. Still he seems to be the type of politician who shares my views and values. Sorry to mister cantor but this is a great switch as far as I’m concerned.

  6. I think this, and the whole Tea Party phenomenon, should be connected with what is happening in various European countries, especially Britain and Italy. In both countries, radically anti-establishment politics, based mainly on the refusal of the same-old same-old, have become serious features of the landscape. To judge by these two countries, something between twenty and thirty per cent of the electorate are voting for parties whose whole program is the rejection of existing realities and of the elites that administer them. That is the whole message of Beppe Grillo’s “Five-Star Movement”, which is not only well established in Parliament but in charge of a number of local administrations; and of UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, which has got something like 20% of the vote at the recent European elections and threatens to vastly damage the Conservative Party in the coming national election. I think there is an underlying anger and rejection of the whole political establishment, right and left, perceived as incompetent, dishonest, and distant from the values and concerns of the public. The difference with the USA is that the USA system makes the rise of a nationwide third party almost impossible, even if we take it that the same twenty to thirty per cent of angry votes is available for one. So the Tea Party is instead trying to take control of the Republican Party, but the dynamic that drives it is pretty much the same as that of Nigel Farage and Beppe Grillo’s parties.

    The difference is that the Republicans and Tea Partiers seem to have lucked out on a man with intellect and learning. Mr.Grillo and Mr.Farage express little more than the inchoate anger of the more ignorant bourgeois strata, and their politics cah almost be reduced to “Stop the world, I wanna get off”, garnished, in the case of Grillo, with lots of profanity. But Professor Brat seems to have done a lot of reading, and even understood what he read – not a frequent feature of the modern politician.

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