The defeat Tuesday in a Virginia Republican congressional primary election of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by a previously unknown Tea Party adherent, David Brat, is forcing a reshuffling of the deck on the 2014 midterm elections.
What Mr. Cantor’s loss actually means will provoke extended discussion and perhaps some revision of election strategy all around.
First of all, Americans who favor Congress addressing the country’s major issues in a timely, efficient fashion will not regret the departure of Mr. Cantor from the scene. He was consistently at the forefront of efforts to obstruct enterprises by President Barack Obama, the Democrats and even others in the Republican Party caucus in the House who would address issues in a spirit of reasonableness. Part of Mr. Cantor’s strategy always included his own clear desire to move up within the Republican delegation in Congress one day to replace Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, usually an unhelpful element in Mr. Cantor’s game.
The issue that was most visible among those that brought Mr. Cantor down was Mr. Brat’s criticism of him for seeking compromise on immigration reform. Mr. Cantor’s defeat, in part on that issue, does not bode well for prospects for immigration change in general, in spite of the fact that important Republican business campaign financiers desire it.
The success at the polls of Mr. Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College who has stated what might be considered by some to be extreme right-wing views, may raise questions for Republicans in other races. On the one hand, it may signal greater life in the Tea Party movement than has been being attributed to it recently by analysts and, more important, by big conservative donors. On the other hand, in general, Republican Party managers, based on their experience in the 2012 elections, have not favored nominating as their party’s candidates people who are so extreme and vocal in their views as to risk turning off even conservative center voters.
In the Virginia 7th District, which Mr. Cantor lost, the Democratic candidate is another Randolph-Macon professor, Jack Trammell, but chances of his taking the seat from the Republicans are considered to be slim. It includes suburban Richmond and areas of rural Virginia.
Finally, whatever one may think of Mr. Cantor, the idea that a seven-term incumbent, with an estimated $8 million in campaign money at his disposal, could be defeated by a virtual unknown, with a reported war chest of only $200,000, is encouraging in terms of what some voters think of cash-fat, longtime members of the country’s elected leadership.