Cantor's Upset Defeat Reinvigorates Tea Party

Image: Cantor's Upset Defeat Reinvigorates Tea Party

Wednesday, 11 Jun 2014 08:18 AM

By Melanie Batley

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Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning defeat to tea party upstart David Brat in Tuesday's Virginia GOP primary handed the conservative movement renewed optimism in its ongoing battle against establishment Republicans.

The Wall Street Journal described the result as has having shattered "in one dramatic stroke the conviction of the GOP establishment that it was finally gaining the upper hand against the party's conservative rebels."

"The upset also sends a signal to the Republican establishment and its business backers that they haven't quite accomplished their goal for the year: taking back control of the party's nominating process from unpredictable grassroots conservatives who in recent years have succeeded in gaining nominations for candidates in some key races the party has gone on to lose," the Journal added.

Cantor lost in the open primary to the economics and ethics professor from Randolph-Macon College, who got 55.5 percent support compared to Cantor's 44.5 percent. Brat was outspent by 14-1, having raised just $200,000 for his shoestring campaign compared to Cantor's $5 million war chest.

Pundits were totally caught off guard, but believe Brat's victory was driven by two main factors: dissatisfaction with the Washington establishment and a campaign narrative that framed Cantor as a supporter of "amnesty" in the immigration debate.

Last month, establishment Republicans were virtually gloating over victories in a number of early primaries, believing it had gained an advantage it the civil war that has been raging since October's government shutdown.

The New York Times described Cantor's loss as a "bad omen for moderates."

Cantor's loss "will reverberate all the way to the speaker’s chair" and "most likely doom any ambitious legislation, possibly through the next presidential election," Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer of the Times wrote.

New York GOP Rep. Peter King told the Times,"The results tonight will move the party further to the right, which will marginalize us further as a national party."

The defeat was symbolic because, Cantor, the second most powerful Republican in the House, was believed to be next in line for House speaker upon John Boehner's expected retirement. Conservatives are now expected to be emboldened to make a challenge for the speakership.

The results will also likely buoy tea party-aligned lawmakers in the House who in recent months have seen their agenda marginalized by the GOP leadership, the Journal said.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of GOP immigration reform legislation in this Congress is also effectively terminated.

Brat told Fox News' Sean Hannity on Tuesday that his support of immigration reform was "the most symbolic issue that captures the differences between myself and Eric Cantor in this race. But it also captures the fissure between Main Street and Wall Street."

Ironically, Cantor was instrumental in helping the tide of tea party candidates who were swept into the House in 2010.

"Mr. Cantor's demise is mildly Shakespearean," the Times said. "Along with Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, Mr. Cantor helped elevate Tea Party candidates in 2010 across the nation by giving them financial and political support, only to be done in by the very type of newcomer he once groomed."

In November, Brat will face Democratic nominee Jack Trammell, also a professor at Randolph-Macon College.

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