Yesterday, Congressman Eric Cantor and the leadership of the GOP learned a big, and painful, lesson. When creating a monster, be careful what you wish for.
The lesson came in the form of Cantor’s stunning and unprecedented defeat at the hands of TEA Party challenger Dave Brat. Never before has a sitting majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives been defeated in an election contest. There are certain things that come with the kind of power Cantor has possessed since the GOP took control of the House in 2011. From the ability to funnel federal resources to his district and state to virtually unlimited ability to raise campaign cash. After all, most lobbyists want nothing more than to be a “friend” of the majority leader.
It’s not like Cantor didn’t spend a boatload of money defending his seat against his challenger. Cantor spent more than $5 million on his campaign, to Brat spent less than $300,000. So what happened? How does the second most powerful man in the House of Representatives lose to a primary challenger in a “safe” republican district that he helped draw?
Eric Cantor has been arguably the strongest ally of the TEA party members of the GOP. He has positioned himself to the right of Speaker John Boehner, pushing the extremist TEA Party agenda that has led to government shutdowns and the overall productivity destroying position of saying no to any sort of cooperation with President Obama in the act of governing. But as part of the House leadership, sometimes Cantor had to act as a leader ans step away from the fringe of his party and vote for compromise.
The Tea Party was initially a manufactured political movement set up to tap into extremist anger ans distrust of government, to bolster the GOP and facilitate taking control of the House from the Democrats in 2010. The problem with sticking a broom handle into a hornets nest is that the sticker is more than likely going to get stung. By occasionally voting to support compromise, Cantor became a target himself, and the child he helped create, nurture, and support and back home to eat him alive.
Cantor wanted a district that was solidly republican in makeup. and he got the Virginia legislature to gerrymander a district that was more rural and far-right to ensure a safe seat. Unfortunately for Cantor, the grab for security reached too far, and created a district where even he, was not far-right enough.
In the coming weeks, if not days, major jockeying for Cantor’s leadership position will ensue. Speaker Boehner cannot afford to have a lame-duck in the majority leader chair. The big question is will Boehner be able to position a non-TEA Party radical in line to take over for Cantor. About the only non-TEA Party possibility is Rep. Paul Ryan. I know, it’s odd to think of Ryan as a moderate, but compared to the nut-jobs on the uber-far-right, Ryan could be considered reasonable,
But most unfortunate for the American people however is that no matter who is placed in Cantor’s position, the possibility of compromise on immigration reform, unemployment insurance extension, and a hose of other governing legislative issues, is dead. If anyone didn’t think things were stuck in the mud in the House before Cantors defeat, now even they should understand, progress on anything is stuck in concrete.