For the first time since the position was created in 1899 a sitting Majority Leader of the House of Representatives has been defeated in a party primary. Eric Cantor was soundly defeated last night in Virginia’s 7th congressional district Republican primary by David Brat, a conservative college professor who represented the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.
Cantor outspent his opponent 27 to 1 and had all of the DC press establishment saying he was a sure thing to be re-elected. His “internal polling” had him up 36 points. Nonetheless, he lost the race by 10 points and under Virginia’s sore loser law Cantor is not allowed to run for that seat again this year. He’s out.
Beyond the party drama of the Tea Party once again asserting control is the substantive impact on policy. This primary is being seen far and wide as eulogy for immigration reform.
The outcome may well mark the end of Cantor’s political career, and aides did not respond Tuesday night when asked if the majority leader, 51, would run a write-in campaign in the fall.
But its impact on the fate of immigration legislation in the current Congress seemed clearer still. Conservatives will now be emboldened in their opposition to legislation to create a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, and party leaders who are more sympathetic to such legislation will likely be less willing to try.
House Speaker John Boehner, though he may have had a personal distaste for Cantor, is one of the losers from last night’s result. He has no choice now but to bow down before the Tea Party or face near certain destruction of his Speakership. The base is in control.
The defeat of Cantor also sets up the struggle for 2016 with Ted Cruz’s staff openly celebrating Brat’s victory. If the Tea Party is running the show then moderate Republicans have no chance of securing the presidential nominations in 2016 – no Bush, no Christie. The campaign is likely to break between ideological camps within the Tea Party such as the libertarian wing led by Rand Paul and the conservative wing led by Ted Cruz.
In any case, the Republican Party has gone even further right with the likely effect of dragging the Democrats with them.