Tomasky’s jaw drops:
Cantor was not an enemy of the Tea Party. He was in fact the Tea Party’s guy in the leadership for much of the Barack Obama era. He carried the tea into the speaker’s office. And still he got creamed. Creamed! Has a party leader ever lost a primary like this? Stop and take this in. Like any political journalist, I’m a little bit of a historian of this sort of thing, although I readily admit my knowledge isn’t encyclopedic. But I sure can’t think of anything. Tom Foley, the Democratic House speaker in the early 1990s, lost reelection while he was speaker, but that was in the general, to a Republican, which is a whole different ballgame. And he was the first sitting speaker to lose an election since…get this…1862! But a primary? The No. 2 man in the House, losing a primary?
He declares that “immigration reform is D-E-A-D”:
There is no chance the House will touch it. That means it’s dead for this Congress, which means that next Congress, the Senate would have to take the lead in passing it again. (The Senate’s passage of the current bill expires when this Congress ends.) And the Senate isn’t going to touch it in the next Congress, even if the Democrats hold on to the majority. Those handful of Republicans who backed reform last year will be terrified to do so. And it’s difficult to say when immigration reform might have another shot. Maybe the first two years of President Clinton’s second term. Maybe.
Chait echoes Tomasky:
[T]he biggest issue by far was immigration reform. Cantor was no reformer, really. He rejected the bipartisan immigration reform deal that Marco Rubio and other Republicans had negotiated in the Senate. But he did hope to salvage some partial compromise, perhaps allowing some illegal immigrants who had been brought over the border as children, and thus could not be deemed personally guilty, to stay unmolested. Brat rejected even that. Any token of conciliation was too much. He still uses the old lingo, calling undocumented immigrants “illegals.” The immediate, and probably correct, reaction in Washington is that Cantor’s defeat wipes out whatever tiny shred of a hope that remained for immigration reform.
But Jay Newton Small finds that it’s not so clear-cut:
Some observers cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions about immigration, and when the dust settles, it may prove that Cantor’s problem was less ideology and more a sense that he stood more for his own ambition than for any definable policies. He frequently reinvented himself with splashy policy speeches, and toured the country raising money and gathering chits for an eventual run for House Speaker.
“Was immigration an issue? Yes. Was it the deciding factor to the tune of 11%? Not no, hell no. It’s a fairy tale,” Virginia Democratic strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders said.
Ben Jacobs and Tim Mak also downplay the immigration angle, claiming Cantor beat himself:
One Virginia Republican familiar with the race suggested that Cantor’s loss was due to “a perfect storm” brought about by the fact that Cantor seemed to be schooled in “the George Armstrong Custer school of tactics as opposed to Sung Tzu school.” The Republican suggested that while immigration was a factor, the bigger issues were internal party politics. As opposed to other Virginia Republicans in Congress, Cantor didn’t show the most basic respect to Tea Partiers in his district. It wasn’t about Cantor’s votes but rather that he didn’t even show up to explain himself and get yelled at. If the Majority Leader, who was the only Jewish Republican on Capitol Hill, had paid more attention to the words of Woody Allen, who said “80 percent of life is showing up,” he would be in much better political shape.
Cantor lost his race because he was running for Speaker of the House of Representatives while his constituents wanted a congressman. The tea party and conservatives capitalized on that with built up distrust over Cantor’s other promises and made a convincing case Cantor could not be trusted on immigration either. Cantor made it easy trying to be a congressman from Virginia and a worthy successor to the Speaker in K-Street’s eyes.
Ezra makes a bunch of smart points. Among them:
Of late, there’s been a lot of talk about “reform conservatism,” a gentler, more inclusive, more wonkish brand of conservatism. Cantor, a founding member of the “Young Guns,” was one of reform conservatism’s patron saints. His loss suggests reform conservatism doesn’t have much of a constituency, even among Republican primary voters. The Republican base, at least in Cantor’s district, isn’t in the mood for technocratic solutionism. It’s still angry, and it still believes that any accommodation is too much accommodation.
But Ramesh isn’t ready to believe anybody’s theories yet:
It is easy enough to attribute his defeat to the sentiment among conservatives that Cantor is not sufficiently hostile to an amnesty for illegal immigrants, and that the Republican establishment is too squishy: too willing to raise the debt ceiling, vote for bank bailouts, and so on. But then why did Senator Lindsey Graham, who vocally championed the immigration bill while Cantor distanced himself from it, win walking away in conservative South Carolina? Why did Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is just as much an establishment figure as Cantor, and more favorable to the immigration bill, thump his primary opponent a few weeks ago?
There’s a certain poetic irony to Cantor, who exploited Tea Party frustrations in order to undermine Boehner, falling to a Tea Party challenger himself. And as my colleague Danny Vinik points out, this probably isn’t good news for the Republican Party’s political prospects in national elections, given how out of sync the Tea Party is with the rest of the country. But there’s a long way to go before 2016. In the interim, the country needs a government that can actually function—which means it needs an opposition party that can bring itself to compromise, at least once in a while. In the wake of Cantor’s loss, Republicans may be even less enthusiastic about that than they were before.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)