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What does Rep. Eric Cantor’s Primary Loss in Virginia Really Signify?

Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s hopes to replace House Speaker John Boehner were crushed with his defeat by Randolph Macon Economics Professor David Brat by 11 points, 56% to 45% in Virginia’s Tuesday primary. After the stunning upset victory in suburban Richmond, Virginia’s 7th Congressional District by Republican challenger David Brat, a self-styled Tea Party libertarian, Republican Party leaders are confounded about future prospects. They are concerned about House contests and national mid-term and Presidential elections in both 2014 and 2016. Long term Virginia 7th C.D. incumbent Republican and US House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor has no choice but to resign forcing the House GOP majority to elect a new leader. Because of the immigration issue raised in this defeat of Cantor by Tea Party upstart Brat this could be a further warning to House Speaker John Boehner that he might face similar prospects in his home district in Ohio this November. The Wall Street Journal in its report on Cantor’s upset loss to ‘underfunded’ Brat commented:

Mr. Cantor’s defeat marked an unexpected and staggering turn in this year’s primary-election season, overturning the building narrative that Republican Party leaders and allied business groups had trampled the GOP’s tea-party wing, which has fought to push the party to the political right.

Mr. Cantor’s defeat could reshape many areas of policy in Congress, foremost the prospects for immigration legislation. Many Republican leaders say the GOP won’t make gains with the fast-growing Hispanic population unless it helps to liberalize immigration laws and grant legal status to some illegal immigrants. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) has said he wants to take up the issue, but opposition from conservatives in his ranks has stalled the effort.

In his largely under-the-radar campaign, Mr. Brat, 49 years old, primarily sought to cast himself as more conservative than Mr. Cantor on immigration policy. He also criticized the GOP leader’s alliance with business groups and his record on fiscal issues, particularly his votes to raise the federal borrowing limit, casting Mr. Cantor as part of a leadership team that he argued had grown disconnected from its constituents.

While many are shocked about the Brat primary victory that dethroned House Majority leader Eric Cantor, we do not believe it was because he is Jewish. Rather, it is reflective of the extreme polarization of both parties. Democrats who recently were polled to determine if they were moderate versus liberal, skewed towards liberals. In January 2014 the Gallup organization released findings of self-identification in more than 13 polls taken in 2013 of 18,000 Americans. Their report confirmed this trend:

Americans continue to be more likely to identify as conservatives (38%) than as liberals (23%). But the conservative advantage is down to 15 percentage points as liberal identification edged up to its highest level since Gallup began regularly measuring ideology in the current format in 1992.

On the GOP side, the traditional country club business moderates that we were occasioned to see in prominence as party leaders over the period from the 1940’s through the Reagan, Bush I and II eras have been diminished by the rise of the Tea Party and libertarian grass roots movements.  That is reflected in the ironic confrontation in the November Henrico Virginia Congressional District race which is now between two professors at Randolph Macon University., Brat, a self styled tea Party libertarian, versus Democrat candidate, Jack Trammell, who styles himself as “liberal progressive”. Given the 7th CD voting preferences heavily skewed to conservative Brat might represent the district in the next Congress. As to why Cantor lost, look no further than the comments of David Wasserman of the Cooke Report quoted in this USA Today article on Cantor’s defeat:

Cantor’s leadership position, unwillingness to prolong last October’s government shutdown, far-fetched attacks on Brat, and stylistic clash with Virginia’s gun-owning, very conservative 7th (district) all played a role in the ‘perfect storm’ of base anger that engulfed him.

In a warning sign of Tea Party discontent in Cantor’s Richmond-based district, activists booed and heckled Cantor during a party convention in May. Cantor had invested nearly $1 million into the primary, running television ads and sending mailers attacking the underfunded and little known Brat.

Former Connecticut US Senator Joe Lieberman was upended in a highly partisan primary in August 2006 in the Nutmeg state.  As a Connecticut resident then, many of us were appalled to find that a minority of registered Democrat voters nominated Ned Lamont, scion of a wealthy Greenwich family; many were progressives, virulently anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. That energized involvement of a number of us in the Lieberman Independent campaign and resulting victory in November 2006.  A majority of those who elected him were Republicans and a distinct minority were union members, what pollsters called conservative lunch bucket Democrats.  That was an indication that the progressives had taken over local Democratic politics.  See my Israpundit post, August 10, 2006.

Unlike the Lieberman example, Cantor can’t run as a ‘sore loser’ Independent candidate in Virginia. And even if he could, he would lose because of the polarized Conservative electorate who didn’t appreciate his moderate views on immigration and other issues.  The defeat of Cantor may possibly lead in the next Congress to overturning current House Speaker John Boehner.  Polarization at the extremes of both parties has vaporized bi-partisan resolution of major public policy issues perhaps reflected in the low approval ratings of Congress. More ominously it may presage the emergence of an autocratic executive branch of our government relying on executive orders.   That could translate to a majority of Independents and moderates in the country being turned off, not voting and both Congressional and Presidential race outcomes determined by activist minorities.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review. The featured photo is courtesy of the Associated Press.