House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost in the Republican primary Tuesday night to Tea Party upstart David Brat. Even though Cantor had far more money in his campaign coffers than Brat, and recent polls showed that Cantor was comfortably ahead of his primary challenger, Cantor was handily defeated by Brat, 56% – 44%. Yes, the sitting House Majority Leader, whose campaign spent more money on steak dinners than his challenger did on his entire campaign, lost to a little-known, far-right economics professor by 12 points.
The early consensus among the political punditry is that Brat was able to pull off this amazing come-from-behind victory by painting Cantor as being for immigration reform and pro-amnesty. Brat also found himself a somewhat powerful ally in the conservative media in Laura Ingraham, who used her radio show to stump for Brat against Cantor. Brat, being underfunded in comparison to Cantor, was able to get some free press via Ingraham and get his name known. Ingraham, being a zealous opponent of immigration reform, gladly hyped up Brat’s campaign for him. At a campaign event for Brat, she even said President Obama should have sent Cantor to the Taliban in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl.
With Cantor’s loss and Brat’s vehement opposition to immigration reform, it seems likely that we will see the Tea Party and far-right members of the GOP push the party even farther to the right than it already is. The 2nd-most powerful person in the House will no longer have a seat, so there will be a mad scramble for power among House Republicans. At the same time, Tea Partiers will claim that Cantor’s defeat shows that the party needs to promote ‘true conservatives’ from deep red states into leadership positions, rather than placing more moderate Representatives from swing and blue states to lead the House. They will state that the party’s platform and agenda needs to veer towards the extreme. Any thoughts towards moderation and compromise need to be nixed.
Milquetoast Republicans, worried about being labeled non-conservative and perhaps targeted for future primaries, will likely toe the extremist line. Far-right ideologues are going to jockey for position and make themselves a constant presence on cable news and talk radio, blathering on about about the need for more personal liberty and that Obama is making all of us ‘debt slaves.’ The obstruction and obstinance that we’ve seen from the Republican Party since they took control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 midterms will continue, and perhaps become even worse. That is, assuming they maintain their majority after this year’s midterms.
The thing is, if the GOP looks at this Cantor defeat as further proof that they need to swing even more to the right, then that decision will inevitably doom the party. If Republicans believe that Cantor was beat solely because of his stance on immigration reform, and therefore, they need to continue to block any progress on this issue, then they may as well tell Hispanic voters to never vote for the GOP. Considering that Hispanics are the largest growing ethnic segments of the American population, the Republican Party better get used to being a regional party with little to no chance of ever getting a President elected.
No matter how the GOP tries to frame it, Hispanic voters see through the racist sentiments behind Republican opposition to immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship. Usually, the Representatives and Senators who show the most resistance to immigration reform come from districts and states with the least diverse populations, where their constituents are largely white, and live in rural or suburban areas. Even though the vast majority of Americans, even Republicans, support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, many of these far-right lawmakers represent areas where that isn’t the case.
The GOP already knows it has to write off the entire black vote for generations, if not forever, due to the decision to embrace the Southern Strategy, utilize offensive rhetoric and support policies that African Americans felt damaged their community. Therefore, if you already have over 10% of the population not voting for you under any circumstances, it would seem imperative not to alienate other segments of the population. However, it appears that the GOP thinks they can get by with an all-white vote moving forward and still win elections on a regular basis.
Instead of considering the very real possibility that Cantor might have lost due to him just coming across as unlikable, opportunistic and unconcerned with his district, Republicans and the media are convinced it has to do with his stance on one issue. The Republican Party, by overemphasizing immigration as the key issue in Cantor’s loss and re-embracing the Tea Party, will absolutely lose the Presidential election in 2016 and possibly the House and Senate. Sure, they might be able to gain some short-term gains in 2014 by energizing the fringe and playing on Republican voters’ emotions. However, in the end, they will end up repulsing the nation at large with their continued shift to the right.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).