On Tuesday, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., became the first House majority leader ever to be defeated in a primary election. No one in Washington saw this coming. Most try harder to spin the result than to understand why it happened. They will regret it.
Good candidates win. Bad candidates lose.
Eric Cantor, like Mitt Romney, is an intelligent man of good character and genuine accomplishment. But like Mr. Romney — and for essentially the same reasons — he was a terrible candidate.
The victor, Dave Brat, who teaches economics at Randolph-Macon College, could be in real life the character played by Jimmy Stewart in the Frank Capra film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” thinks screenwriter Roger L. Simon. “The professor seemed a bright man, refreshingly direct and honest, addressing ideas and issues in a, well, professorial manner rarely heard in politics these days,” Mr. Simon said. “He was also free of rancor toward Cantor, whom he judged a good man in a way that appeared authentic.”
Rep. Cantor spent as much on steakhouse events as Dave Brat spent on his entire campaign. But the professor made the most of his limited resources. The turning point may have come May 28, when he hijacked a news conference Rep. Cantor had called to get out of the hole he’d dug for himself on illegal immigration.
There was little difference between the candidates on most issues, but a considerable difference in how they were presented. Prof. Brat spoke clearly and simply about fundamental principles. Rep. Cantor seemed always to equivocate.
Many conservatives have wildly unrealistic expectations for what can be accomplished with control of just one-half of one-third of the government. But they’re right to be disgusted with the performance of GOP Congresses during the Bush administration and justified in demanding Republicans oppose more vigorously the Obama administration’s flagrant disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law.
It was chiefly the impression he was too close to wealthy special interest groups, too timid in defending the values his constituents hold dear that did in Eric Cantor.
Their fondness for cheap labor is why big business supports travesties such as the “Gang of 8” immigration bill. His constituents think Rep. Cantor cared more for their money, and Wall Street’s, than for them.
But those who say illegal immigration wasn’t an important issue are foolish, or think you are.
The majority leader might have won, or at least not lost so badly (he got creamed, 56 percent to 44 percent) if the primary hadn’t been held when illegal immigrants, invited by our lawless president, are flooding across our southern border.
Dave Brat speaks about illegal immigration in ways all Republicans would be wise to emulate. He expresses no animus toward those who sneaked into the country in search of a better life. He emphasizes how much illegal immigration depresses the wages of Americans who were born here.
Giddy Democrats think the majority leader’s defeat is a problem just for Republicans. But it isn’t only Republicans who notice that our obese, dysfunctional government serves mostly a politically connected elite.
Not many bus drivers or sales clerks attended the $32,400 a plate fundraiser the president spoke at Wednesday. When Goldman Sachs speaks, Hillary Clinton listens. Big bucks from billionaire environmentalists are more important than jobs for union workers for Democrats in Michigan, Colorado and elsewhere.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are poster children for post-achievement politics. They’ve reached the top without ever having accomplished anything.
Sacrifice is for the little people. Mr. Obama lavishes taxpayer money on himself and his family. The Clintons have mansions in Georgetown and Chappaqua and a reported net worth of up to $200 million.
But at home and abroad, the grave consequences of failed policies have become too obvious for media spin to conceal. And it isn’t only Republicans who “see a grim future for themselves, their children and their country,” wrote Ron Fournier in the National Journal. “They believe their political leaders are selfish, greedy and short-sighted.”
Eric Cantor’s defeat was the canary in the coal mine, a harbinger of things to come. If I were Hillary Clinton, I’d be very, very afraid.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1476).