On Tuesday Night, Representative Eric Cantor (R, VA-7) lost his primary election to Tea Party backed candidate Dave Brat. Cantor became the first House Majority Leader to lose a primary since the position was created in 1899.
According to a profile on Politico, Brat is an economics professor at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, VA. This was not the first time that Cantor faced a primary challenge. In 2012, Cantor defeated Floyd Bayne by 60 points before going on to a 17-point victory that November.
Cantor had several advantages going into this election: name recognition, money, and of course incumbency. Why didn't those things help him win on Tuesday Night?
There are a lot of reasons why Cantor lost this election. Here are my takes on it.
1. MONEY IS NOT EVERYTHING
Cantor spent $5 million to Brat spending $122,000. Cantor had a 40-to-1 advantage in spending and lost. Which brings me to point number 2...
2. WHO SHOWS UP ON ELECTION DAY MATTERS
The Cantor Campaign ran an internal poll showing their candidate having a 34-point advantage in a poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates between 27-28 May. Polls are great at gauging how an election looks, but the only poll that matters is the one that takes place on Election Day.
Cantor should have known that he was in trouble based on his speech to delegates to the Virginia 7th Congressional District Republican District on 10 May. Also Cantor's pick for the Republican Committee chairman in that district lost in favor of the one who backed Brat.
As shown in the clip there is a mixture of boos and applause along with the usual feeding the crowds red meat.
The Washington Post highlights the percentage of voters it took to oust Cantor. I have seen it many times in Texas in municipal elections, school board elections, and other down ballot elections that are further away from the attractive race at the top. Elections are all about which side turns out their voters to polls and Republicans have mastered this in non-presidential election years.
Point 3 is something the media was at first focusing on. It doesn't tell the entire story, but I agree with this point.
3. IMMIGRATION IS A DOUBLE EDGED SWORD FOR THE MODERN REPUBLICAN PARTY
After conceding his primary election, pro-immigration reformers crashed his election night watch party. The one issue that Brat ran on was an anti-immigration platform of no amnesty and even signed an anti-amnesty pledge, according to Think Progress in their analysis of Cantor's loss.
According to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, 62 percent of Americans favor a way for immigrants who are currently living in the United States illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements.
Along party lines, 70% of Democrats, 61% of independents, and 51% of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship. Those that identify with the Tea Party, it is split evenly (37-37) between favoring immigrants to become legal citizens and those that would favor a policy of deportation for illegal immigrants.
Which circumvents back to point 2: Who is showing up for Republican Primary Elections?
Certainly not the moderates. Look at what happened in Texas in March and then again for the May runoffs. State Senator Dan Patrick (R, TX SD-7) ran on an anti-immigration platform as well as being the anti-Dewhurst and it won him the nomination of his party leading to the production of a hard right platform that included anti-immigration language.
Republicans need the emerging Hispanic vote if they are to win national elections, but they also need to brush back primary challenges. Remember Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" line from a January 2012 and how it was to the right of Governor Rick Perry's position of supporting the Texas DREAM Act?
In the last presidential election, Hispanics made up 10% of the 2012 electorate and voted for Obama 71-26. In 2008, 9% of the voters were of that demographic and supported Obama 67-31. Since 1972, Hispanics have gone for the Democratic candidate by 60% or higher except for once. In 2004, President George W. Bush won 44% of the Hispanic Vote. He was able to cleave off enough of the Hispanic vote in order to secure victories in both the popular vote and electoral college vote.
Republican Presidential nomination process is going to be a nightmare for a Republican
candidate who has a reasonable chance of winning the White House because that
candidate will have to track hard right to win the nomination and then come for
the general will have to return to the center to win the White House.
Republicans are recognizing the potential electoral and demographic nightmare their party faces if they do nothing considering Comprehensive Immigration Reform. A week ago Think Progress pointed out that Republican candidates that signed anti-immigration pledges have lost primary races.
Cantor seemed to be in favor of some immigration reform but was unwilling to take a stand. He was in support of legalizing undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children but never supported any legislation. Cantor was in favor of tying citizenship to military service for undocumented persons which was supported by fellow Reps. Jeff Denham (R, CA-10) and Mike Coffman (R, CO-6), but he was noncommittal about scheduling a vote or adding it to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2014.
The best way to describe Cantor's immigration position was from White House official Dan Pfeiffer via twitter:
Cantor's problem wasn't his position on immigration reform, it was his lack of a position. Graham wrote and passed a bill and is winning big
— Dan Pfeiffer (@pfeiffer44) June 11, 2014
Senator Lindsay Graham (R, SC) won his primary convincingly on Tuesday Night because he took a position on immigration.
Brat had a position (one that I don't agree with, but it was one). Cantor did not. He was unwilling to take Brat's position to beak back his challenge and at the same time unwilling to take a position that favors immigration reform.
4. TIME TO REWRITE THE WHOLE ESTABLISHMENT REPUBLICANS ARE WINNING SCRIPT
I think the press and other political commentators need to revisit the whole "The Establishment Is Winning" line.
The Republican Party is the Tea Party.
In North Carolina, Speaker of The State House Thom Tillis oversaw a legislature that took a hard right turn. He won his primary easily clearing the 40% threshold and is facing off against Senator Kay Hagan. Tillis received backing from Republican PACs is order to avoid a long drawn out primary and polling for the general election prior to the primary election (scroll down to hypothetical polling) showed Tillis as the candidate who was better suited to take on Hagan.
The Republican running for the open senate seat in Iowa is Joni Ernst. She cleared the 35% threshold needed to avoid the nomination being decided at convention.
If you haven't seen Ernst's ad, here it is. In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Ernst stated her opposition to ObamaCare, that she has not seen the proof that climate change is entirely man-made, Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and people should be allowed to freely carry firearms everywhere.
In her final debate she stated that she would vote for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (despite the Iowa Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling in April 2009 overturning the state's ban).
Senator Thad Cochran (R, MS) is trailing his primary runoff opponent, State Senator Chris McDaniel, 51-48 according to a Democratic leaning poll and 52-46 according to a Republican leaning poll. If you type in "mcdaniel confederate" into Google, you get stories like these. And claiming that the confederate group is not racist. And this video.
And then there is Texas.
As I said in my observation about Texas Republican Politics after the March primary, the Tea Party was alive and well in Lone Star State politics.
Nate Silver's piece about labels is well worth a read because the Tea Party and the Republican Party have blurred into one another.
There are a lot of information out there and theories about why this election . Cantor lost because Democrats crossed over to vote in a Republican primary despite data showing that did not happen. Daily Kos and Politico each have articles explaining that the various theories being presented are wrong. Politico is taking a wait-and-see approach about the effects this (NOTE) primary election will have. There is a Democrat in the general (Jack Trammell) and even though the district is rated Cook PVI R+10, it can be winnable given Virginia's tilt as a battleground state in the last two presidential elections and US Senate elections in 2006, 2008, and 2012. It should be noted that there is a US Senate election in Virginia this year.
This election was a shock. And Nate Silver has the numbers to back it up. Over the last 10 years, a majority of Republican incumbents have won their primaries with 80% of the vote or higher. Silver then compares it to the common metaphor that the press has been using: an earthquake. Over a 15 year period, most of the California earthquakes were rated a magnitude of 3.5.
Silver is pointing out that there are many earthquakes and seismic events around the world; many of them occur without much human notice.
The one thing that Silver points out in his "Tea Party Label" post is that over the last 10 years, Republican Senate Primaries have become closer over that time period. The average vote share for an incumbent Republican has gone down from 90% to 75% in the last decade. Silver points out two races: Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania in 2004, and Lincoln Chafee beating back Steve Laffey in Rhode Island 2006. Both won their primaries, but in 2010 Pat Toomey would be elected to the US Senate and Steve Laffey is running for Congress in Colorado this election cycle.
After much writing and reading all the stuff that I can find at this time, here is what I think.
(finally... he gets to the point!)
Representative (who will be former by January 2015) Eric Cantor was the architect of the Republican strategy of "NO" during the Obama Administration.
Cantor along with House Republicans Kevin McCarthy (CA), Paul Ryan (WI, VP candidate in 2012), Pete Sessions (TX), Jeb Hensarling (TX), Pete Hoekstra (MI), and Dan Lungren (CA) along with Senate Republicans Jim DeMint (SC), Jon Kyl (AZ), Tom Coburn (OK), John Ensign (NV) and Bob Corker (TN). Other attendees of this strategy session included Newt Gingrich (2012 Republican presidential candidate) and Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
Not present at this meeting were then-House Republican Leader John Boehner and current Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
This meeting was at a Washington, DC dinner in January 2009.
On the night of 20 January 2009.
As in President Obama was barely 12 hours into his term as president and Republicans were plotting to sabotage his presidency.
One of the first things that Cantor and his associates did was oppose the stimulus. Then the Republican Party openly courted the Tea Party and rode the anti-incumbency wave to electoral success in 2010.
Cantor was part of a triumvirate of Republican House members called the "Young Guns" to tout the youth of the party and how they were rebranded with new ideas. These included Paul Ryan, who was tapped as Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012, and Kevin McCarthy, who is now being rumored of one of several people in the running for the House Republican Leader role and could become the next Speaker of the House if Boehner decides to not seek another term in that role in the next congress.
Cantor tried to be one of the Tea Party guys but in reality he wasn't. Sure he went along with the Republican plot to breach the debt ceiling in 2011 that nearly crippled the global economy and downgraded our credit rating, and the government shutdown in October 2013, but he was never really one of them. He cruised to re-election in his primary and in the general in 2012, but clearly he took his constituents for granted especially those that participated in primary elections.
Cantor had a 30% approval rating in his district and he was in DC meeting with lobbyists instead of campaigning and hitting the streets which he should have been doing a month before. No wonder he lost.
This is sounding like in 2012 when Mitt Romney believed his internals that he was going to win the election that he didn't bother to write a concession speech.
Eric Cantor will not be missed. He contributed to the Republican obstructionism of the last 5-1/2 years and is why the 112th AND 113th Congresses will make the infamous "Do-Nothing" 80th Congress look functional.
I expect when Cantor leaves the House in January 2015 he will be affiliated with a lobbying firm or think tank, basically something that makes him more money than his meager $175,000 per year as a member of Congress.
Frankly, he got exactly what he deserved.