House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat to tea party activist David Brat has ripped open the rift between Republicans, threatening the chances of the GOP winning the presidency in 2016, The New York Times reported
The historic primary result in Virginia will set off a new round of GOP infighting among the establishment and the conservative factions, which will result in policy-making gridlock on Capitol Hill for at least the rest of the year and maybe until President Barack Obama leaves office.
The prospects of immigration reform appear to be doomed as hardliners like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas will now feel empowered to stand firm against any form of amnesty for illegal immigrants while also taking on the moderates on other contentious GOP issues.
“What the Republican establishment and the Chamber of Commerce don’t understand is that there’s a large element of America that wants a fight,” former Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Times.
“If you’re a conservative, you think Barack Obama is literally destroying the country you love. And you watch your leadership and they seem unwilling to take him head on, and also unable to outmaneuver him.”
His outrage is echoed by the grass-roots right-wing leadership, fuelling concerns that there will be more brinkmanship over the debt ceiling, similar to the showdown led by Cruz that closed down the government last year.
The newspaper noted that even if the GOP gains control of the Senate in the midterm election, Republicans will be reluctant to work with Obama in fear that tea party primary challengers will surface in 2016 to take on senators who don’t have true conservative values.
“Republican members of the Senate and House are going to be extraordinarily skittish about taking risks,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster. “All it takes is one high-profile crash and nobody wants to fly on airplanes for a while, and that’s what happened.”
Cantor’s defeat has been partially blamed on his support of an immigration overhaul, which could encourage the establishment to put it on the backburner this year to placate the party base.
On the other hand, GOP moderates recognize that Republican presidential contenders are likely to face the wrath of the ever-growing Latino electorate in 2016 if immigration legislation is ignored.
Referring to Cantor’s defeat by a tea party conservative, Republican strategist Mike Murphy said, “There is no doubt there will be a chilling effect among those who use this as anecdotal evidence on immigration, particularly in the House caucus. That’s the big danger.”
But Murphy, one of the closest advisers to Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, added, “The necessity of reconnecting with the Latino vote is far bigger than a congressional primary in Virginia, and the party, for the sake of its own self-interest, has to understand that.”
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