Eric Cantor will not be going back to Washington as a Republican Congressman. In a stunning defeat in Virginia’s Seventh District, the 113rd Congress will be coming back to work without their House Majority Leader. The 51-year-old, seven term congressman is the first “big” to fall in the Republican primaries, but it does not appear that he will be the last, suggesting a very scary future for Republican candidates in upcoming elections.
The now former-House Majority Leader lost his primary reelection bid to Tea Party candidate, David Brat. After the win, which saw Brat claim 55 percent of Virginia’s Seventh District vote (roughly ten percent more than Cantor), Brat will be set to face a familiar Democratic foe. Hailing from the same college as Brat, Democratic contender, Jack Trammell, sets up a “Teacher vs Teacher” matchup that is set to make the political nerds of the Seventh District go wild. At Randolph-Macon College, Brat is an economics professor while Trammell is an associate sociology professor who also directs the school’s honors program. The bigger story moving forward, however, is not about this match up.
As the Tea Party gains traction on a national scale through right-wing television shows and talk-radio pundits, the local Republican primary elections have taken quite an ugly turn. In this most recent election, incumbent Republicans have been reeling from the heat that their further right challengers have focused upon them in their home districts. There have not yet been that many upsets so far in this early primary season and, before this upset, the Tea Party appeared to be in need of life support. However, there have been some alarming display of what establishment Republicans feel is their only way to fight back: to move further to their right.
In the Cantor reelection bid, the House Majority Leader appeared at first to be exactly what Tea Party conservatives painted him to be. His commercials were plain and pitched to the party faithful, making Cantor seem not to care much about his local district, becoming too concerned with playing “Washington politics.” Cantor’s campaign proved to be so bad that he was actually booed in his own district at a local Republican gathering, suggesting that moderate Republicans are facing a much scarier future election bids.
As the process moved toward the primary, Brat would not hold back. Using talk-radio pundits like Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham as campaign surrogates, Brat leaned heavily on his anti-immigration stand as his one critical primary talking point. As Chuck Todd, of MSNBC, reported on the Rachel Maddow Show, Brat would “throw out the word ‘amnesty’ any chance he could….every fourth word or so.” However, instead of responding aggressively to such “heinous” allegations as siding with President Obama on anything, and especially on immigration reform (an issue that seems to be dooming establishment Republicans in the South), Eric Cantor responded with campaign flyers claiming that “Cantor is stopping the Obama and Reid plan to give illegal aliens amnesty” and “Cantor Torches Immigration Reform.”
Unfortunately for Republicans and all future voters alike, this preemptive movement further to their right to appease the Republican-designed Gerrymandered districts does not seem to be going away anytime soon. In Lindsey Graham’s successful senate primary re-election race, the senior Senator from South Carolina did not waffle on his immigration stand in response to his counterpart’s attacks on him for co-authoring an immigration reform bill, but he did move further to the right on other hot-button issues. In his reelection bid, Graham actually raised the notion of impeachment, and cried foul again on the Benghazi consulate attacks, calling members of the White House “scumbags” for covering it up.
In North Carolina, establishment conservative Thom Tillis advocated getting rid of the Department of Education and even denied human-made climate change. In Georgia, establishment contenders for the Republican Senate nomination called for the privatization of entitlements for future beneficiaries, denounced abortion rights, and opposed all forms of immigration reform. Marco Rubio of Florida advocated for immigration reform, but made up for that by also denouncing man-made climate change.
With Eric Cantor’s huge upset, the trend of establishment Republicans moving further to their right in their reelection campaigns is sure to get much worse. It would be naive not to notice that local primary elections always force candidates to move further to their left or further to their right in order to appease whichever voter is unhappiest at the time. But with the way Gerrymandering has gotten significantly worse over the past 10-15 years – especially in places like the South and Midwest – it seems it will only be a matter of time before this further-right perspective becomes the new norm. Once that new norm is set, future elections and candidates will then have to move even further to their right in their next go around. In some parts of the nation, this cycle would appear to be an endless one that will surely leave them and their political followings very far to the right on just about any issue.
This defeat handed to one of the Republican parties biggest leaders in Congress would appear to be unprecedented, as a Republican House Leader has never lost a seat to a contender from their own party. Sooner or later, moving forward, the Republican Party as a whole, will have to face the beast that they have created in the Tea Party, especially in the rural South, but moving even further to the right than they already have been in these recent elections should not be a future option.
If establishment candidates like Eric Cantor want to save the Republican Party from their further right counterparts, they will need to actually stand for what they truly believe in. Cantor went back and forth on topics such as immigration too often and that ended up costing him in the end, making him look desperate and cowardly in the face of upset. Being pro-immigration reform is not going to be a bad thing in the eyes of most voters, especially in a general election, but pretending to be for reform one day and against it the next is where their real problems in their local elections will lay. Regardless, as the political spectrum in the Deep South and in parts of the Midwest continues to move further to the right in each subsequent election, Republicans on a national scale ought to begin feeling a little more nervous about their future chances outside of those areas because, if Cantor’s fate is a truthful indicator, upcoming primaries in 2016 may be even scarier for those concerned about the Republican party’s future.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles