John Avlon points to turnout:
[D]on’t give the TeaVangelist team too much credit for strategic genius. The key factor in this upset is a 12% voter turnout—meaning that 6.1% of the local electorate could make a majority. This is a paradise for activists and ideologues—Main Street voters, not so much.
No one seriously doubts whether Cantor could have won a general election in his Virginia district. This is purely a numbers game. An unrepresentative turnout makes for an unrepresentative result. And for Republicans, it is perhaps the most pointed reminder of the dangerous game they’ve been playing by stoking the fires of furious conservative populism. Golem ultimately turns on its creator.
Sure. But Cantor won massively in previous primaries where the turnout was actually lower. Morrissey rightly calls Avlon’s logic absurd:
First, Cantor himself got elected through the same supposedly unrepresentative process of the primary system. … Also, it should be noted that turnout in this primary was actually higher than those earlier primaries that nominated Cantor (almost 20,000 more than in 2012) and were supposedly more representative — and that Cantor got fewer votes this time than in his last primary.
Morrissey also declares that, “that immigration wasn’t the only reason Cantor lost, but it’s absurd to think it didn’t play any role.” I’m with Morrissey. Why? Because immigration was easily the hottest issue as the race came down to the wire. Look at that tweet above. But Jamie Weinstein thinks the emphasis on immigration is misguided:
[T]he truth is that most polls show that a majority of Republicans support a type of legalization proposal similar to what Graham helped write and pass through the Senate and, to a much more limited extent, Cantor supported in the House. There is even a poll of self-identified tea party sympathizers that shows that 70 percent support an immigration bill that would provide some type of pathway to legalization for illegal aliens in the country if certain conditions are met.
Perhaps these polls are all wrong. Perhaps the political class has overlooked the potency of the immigration issue for voters. But it is also possible that we are exaggerating the importance of one House primary, however shocking its result. What if all Cantor’s supporters stayed home because they thought their man was safe and everyone who opposed immigration reform showed up? Maybe Cantor was tossed out because voters thought he cared more about rising the House leadership ranks than representing them?
Maybe. PPP’s polling (pdf) backs that analysis up:
Cantor has a only a 30% approval rating in his district, with 63% of voters disapproving. The Republican leadership in the House is even more unpopular, with just 26% of voters approving of it to 67% who disapprove. Among GOP voters Cantor’s approval is a 43/49 spread and the House leadership’s is 41/50. Those approval numbers track pretty closely with Cantor’s share of the vote last night.
72% of voters in Cantor’s district support the bipartisan immigration reform legislation on the table in Washington right now to only 23% who are opposed. And this is an issue voters want to see action on. 84% think it’s important for the US to fix its immigration system this year, including 57% who say it’s ‘very’ important. Even among Republicans 58% say it’s ‘very’ important, suggesting that some of the backlash against Cantor could be for a lack of action on the issue.
I’m really unconvinced by PPP’s take. It seems really strange when you look at the dynamics of the race. And a poll of all the voters in Cantor’s district is not the same as the actual poll of the minority who showed up. So yes, don’t over-extrapolate from the immigration issue. But don’t deny its potency either. Larison’s take:
The backlash over immigration shows something else, which is the extent to which Republican voters have come to distrust their party leaders and the reason for that distrust. Cantor predictably said that he was against an immigration amnesty bill, but the problem for him was that large numbers of his constituents simply didn’t think he would do what he said. It is understandable that Republican voters would be especially wary of the promises from their leaders on immigration. Party leaders have repeatedly tried to ignore what the voters want on this issue, and many of them have made no secret of their desire to take immigration “off the table” before the next election, and in practical terms that means giving in to at least some of what the administration wants. Add to this Cantor’s focus on his own political aspirations and his perceived neglect of his constituents, and you have a recipe for electoral defeat.
Waldman doesn’t see the loss as a major blow to immigration reform:
It’s true that other Republican members of Congress are going to look at Cantor’s defeat as a cautionary tale. After all, if you’re a backbencher who just saw the Majority Leader get crushed by some nobody in substantial part because of immigration, it’s not exactly going to give you a lot of enthusiasm for sticking your neck out for the good of the national party when it might cost you your seat. But it wasn’t as though there was much of a chance for immigration reform to pass even before this. To put some rather arbitrary numbers on it, the odds went from 20-1, or maybe 50-1, to 100-1. In other words, immigration reform probably wasn’t going to happen before, and it probably isn’t going to happen now.
Judis observes that “Brat’s case against immigration reform was directed at big business as much as it was directed at the immigrants themselves”:
If he is elected in November, Brat may, of course, jettison the anti-Wall Street and anti-big business side of his politics. His actual economic views appear to be close to those of the Cato Institute and Ayn Rand. His solutions for America’s flagging economy consist in flattening the tax code and cutting spending – positions that will certainly not alienate the Chamber of Commerce or Business Roundtable. But in defeating Cantor, Brat echoed the age-old, darker, and more complicated themes of right-wing populism. These themes will continue to resonate, even if Brat abandons them.
Jia Lynn Yang considers the implications for big business:
Brat’s win signals that it’s not just the lawmakers supported by the BRT and the Chamber that are under threat. The business lobby groups themselves have increasingly become political targets–and they could start hearing their names mentioned unflatteringly in many more stump speeches to come.
Kilgore feels Cantor needed to play more to the base:
Interestingly enough, a Republican incumbent initially considered far more vulnerable than Cantor, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, romped to victory yesterday without a runoff over a field of six opponents trying to exploit his RINO reputation. Graham had the same kind of financial advantage as Cantor enjoyed, but also made himself a chief purveyor of red meat to “the base” in his abrasive exploitation of the Benghazi! “scandal,” and more recently, his suggestion that Barack Obama was courting impeachment by his handling of the Bergdahl exchange.
Cantor has been a conspicuous sponsor of the “conservative reform” band of intellectuals encouraging Republicans to think more deeply about a positive governing agenda. He might have done better by emulating Graham and finding some decidedly non-intellectual buttons to push among right-wing activists. That’s a lesson that won’t be lost on Cantor’s soon-to-be-former colleagues in Congress, and on the emerging Republican field for president in 2016.
Beutler downplays the immigration angle:
For more than a year now, Cantor’s stable of influential operatives and former operatives have done battle with the purity obsessed hardliners and opportunists who tried to seize control of the party’s legislative strategy. Many of them sought retribution by taking aim at Cantor in his district.
In the end the right’s beef with him—as with McConnell—was about more than just affect. It was about his willingness to use power politics and procedural hijinks to cut conservatives out of the tangle when expedient. The lesson of his defeat isn’t that immigration reform is particularly poisonous, but that the right expects its leaders to understand they can’t subsume the movement’s energy for tactical purposes, then grant it only selective influence over big decisions.
Jason Zengerle focuses on Cantor’s shape-shifting:
During his 14 years in Washington, Cantor reinvented himself so many times that I ultimately lost count somewhere around Cantor 6.0. And that was ultimately the reason for Cantor’s downfall. The serial reinventions left Cantor with few allies and myriad enemies. He was the worst thing a politician could be: someone who inspired great passion, but only negative ones. As we’ve seen this year with Boehner and with Senator Mitch McConnell, Establishment Republicans can withstand Tea Party primary challengers. But Cantor couldn’t because, unlike Boehner and McConnell—who despite their opposition to Obama never entirely cozied up to the Tea Party—he attempted to be something he was not.
Robert Tracinski, a constituent, thinks Cantor’s downfall was a failure of principle:
Here’s my favorite Eric Cantor story. At the Republican Convention in 2008, I approached Cantor after an event, introduced myself as a constituent, and told him where I lived. It’s a tiny place, more of a wide spot in the road than an actual town, so this was partly a test to see how well Cantor knew his own district. I turns out that he did recognize the town, and to prove it, he started to tell me about how he had worked on getting us an earmark for a local Civil War battlefield park. An earmark, mind you, just after Republicans had officially renounced earmarks in an attempt to appease small-government types. Cantor suddenly realized this and literally stopped himself in mid-sentence. Then he hastily added: “But we don’t do that any more.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, was Eric Cantor: the soul of an establishment machine politician, with the “messaging” of the small-government conservatives grafted uneasily on top of it.
So yes, you can now tear up all those articles pronouncing the death of the Tea Party movement, because this is the essence of what the Tea Party is about: letting the establishment know that they have to do more than offer lip service to a small-government agenda, that we expect them to actually mean it. Or as Dave Brat put it in one of his frenzied post-victory interviews, “the problem with the Republican principles is that nobody follows them.”