In a stunning primary defeat on Tuesday evening, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) failed to win the primary election in his home state of Virginia, losing to economics professor and Republican tea party candidate Dave Brat.
“Obviously we came up short” Cantor said in a speech to his supporters.
“Serving as a 7th district congressmen and then having the privilege to be Majority Leader has been one of the highest honors of my life” Cantor later admitted.
The election loss for Rep. Eric Cantor, who was viewed as next in line to take over for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the House, came as a surprise to nearly everyone and has political ramifications for the Republican Party which is still searching for its identity following two presidential defeats.
The Republican Party is re-positioning itself to win more Senate seats in November’s mid-term election with the anticipation of gaining enough seats to have the majority in the Senate.
The Republican Party remains split along two lines: 1) establishment Republicans who are willing to embrace a moderate Republican “big tent” approach and 2) tea party conservatives on the right who are unwilling to compromise bedrock conservative principles and are opposed to thorny political issues like immigration reform, raising taxes, and modifying gun control laws.
As representative of Virginia’s 7th District and House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor played a pivotal role in the Republican Party and was known for standing up to Democrats on hot button issues such as raising the debt ceiling while also promoting tea party candidates on the national stage.
Although a supporter of staunch conservative causes, Cantor adopted a moderate position over immigration reform on the national stage, agreeing to support a pathway for young undocumented immigrants to gain legal status.
By adopting a moderate Republican position, Cantor alienated himself from the majority of conservative Republicans in his own district.
Tea party candidate Dave Brat seized on Cantor’s moderate position over immigration reform.
Aided by the clout of conservative national talk-show host Laura Ingraham, Brat blasted Cantor for amnesty flip-flops at campaign rallies.
Cantor’s surprising primary loss in one of the most conservative districts is a sign of the strength of local grass roots tea party movement in Virginia to circle the band wagons around conservative causes.
However, the national tea party movement was not active in Virginia and did not spend large sums of money supporting Dave Brat’s campaign.
Republicans seeking re-election during this election season will learn a valuable lesson from Cantor’s recent primary election loss in Virginia and likely not rock the immigration boat issue too hard even if their own districts don’t mirror the brand of conservatism that defeated Rep. Eric Cantor on Tuesday evening.
This election season has already seen tea party candidates lose to moderate establishment oriented Republican candidates.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) defeated tea party challenger Matt Bevin.
In Idaho incumbent Mike Simpson defeated tea party candidate Bryan Smith.
As a political movement, the tea party is not receiving as much public support from Americans during this election season as it did four years ago.
According to a 2014 Gallup poll in late April only 22 percent of polled Americans support the tea party compared to 32 percent in November 2010.
The same Gallup poll also showed that 31 percent of polled Americans hold a favorable opinion of the tea party in April 2014 compared to 39 percent in January 2011.
Another WSJ/NBC News poll from April 2014 revealed that 22 percent of Americans hold a positive view of the tea party compared to 41 percent holding a negative view.
* I will be in Southern California (Del Mar) this coming week-end