After last week’s Virginia primary election, the GOP received a wake-up call when incumbent Eric Cantor was defeated by Tea Party newcomer Dave Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Mason College. A barrage of news and political publications are calling Cantor’s defeat an upset of monumental proportions as well as evidence that the Tea Party movement is very much a force that needs to be taken seriously. Republicans are reportedly scrambling to regroup in order to prevent another such loss.
According to the Boston Globe, while Republicans were offering multiple reasons why Cantor suffered this loss, they were unable to narrow it down to a particular issue. Cantor himself acknowledged the Republican Party is divided but that it “pales in comparison to its difference with Democrats.” He also cautioned that whatever turmoil exists within the Party must be resolved.
However, some party members have downplayed Cantor’s loss to Brat saying it was a local issue, arguing that it does not mean the Republican Party is divided. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus was on CBS’ Face the Nation and stated he did not believe the Party was divided at all. It has been suggested that immigration reform is one of the main divisive forces splitting the Party, but Priebus cited Senator Lindsey Graham’s win in the South Carolina Republican Primary as evidence to the contrary, given that Graham helped draft and voted for comprehensive immigration reform.
CNN columnist Sally Kohn notes that although in the latter stages of the primary campaign, the key issue was immigration. She points to an unpopular Republican leadership in Congress, and the lack of Cantor’s ability to make any legislative progress in his district as the larger concern. She described Cantor’s defeat as a manifestation of the GOP’s refusal to compromise, and warned that it could cripple the American political system. She minimized the strength of Tea Party voter support alone as the overriding factor in the primary, and highlighted the fact that Brat, although a Tea Party candidate, considers himself a traditional Republican. Instead, the columnist accused Cantor of actually abandoning his constituents in favor of furthering his stature on the national stage. One stark example of this abandonment was his ill-timed non-support of disaster funding just prior to a deadly earthquake that struck his own district.
Her column reports an increasing frustration of conservative Republicans who have grown weary of their leadership’s apparent disregard of true conservative ideologies and catering to any number of political distractions. She also faults a do-nothing Republican Party that is more interested in political grandstanding than it is in actually solving any of the country’s urgent problems.
US News describes Cantor’s defeat as “fueling the fire in the GOP civil war and giving ammunition to Democrats hoping to exploit the divide.” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, (D-FL) is calling Cantor’s defeat a “major disruption” and a “huge tsunami of the legislative process that complicates everything.” Diaz-Balart also stated that in spite of internal polls putting Cantor ahead by as much as 34 points, the wide name recognition he had, and that he outspent Brat at a rate of 25 to 1, it was not enough to overcome the frustration of Republican voters.
By Mark Politi