Why Eric Cantor Lost, And A Look At The Extreme Views Of His Opponent
In a stunning upset, Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor lost his primary last night to a Tea-Party backed local economic professor named David Brat. Cantor outspent Brat 20-to-1 on the campaign. His own internal pollster predicted Cantor would win by 34 points. Instead, Brat coasted to victory with 56 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 44. It is the first time a sitting House majority leader has lost in a primary since the position was invented in 1899. Cantor has announced he will not run as a write-in candidate and is stepping down as House majority leader by the end of July.
An immediate narrative coming out of the race was that Cantor’s loss spells doom for immigration reform, as voters punished the prominent Republican for his tenuous support of immigration reform. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Esther Yu-Hsi Lee at Think Progress explains why:
Supporting immigration reform has yet to define other primary races involving incumbents. On Tuesday night, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who voted for a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, defeated several challengers. White House official Dan Pfeiffer said on Twitter, “Cantor’s problem wasn’t his position on immigration reform, it was his lack of a position. Graham wrote and passed a bill and is winning big.” Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who also supported immigration reform, won her primary in May against a Republican who ran on a platform that mainly attacked her immigration reform support. What’s more, the majority of candidates who signed an anti-amnesty pledge lost their primaries. Primary candidates who signed the pledge must promise that they would oppose legislation that would grant any form of work authorization to undocumented immigrants and to oppose legislation that increases the overall number of immigrants and guest workers.
A poll of Cantor’s district released by the progressive group Americans United for Change supports this point. Voters were not punishing Cantor for his position on immigration; in fact, 72 percent of those surveyed in his district support comprehensive immigration reform, including 70 percent of Republicans. The bigger problem for Cantor was his deep unpopularity: 63 percent said they did not approve of the job Cantor has been doing. Indeed, the reality more likely goes back to a golden rule: all politics is local. Here’s Esther again:
What’s more likely was party politics unseated Cantor. The Huffington Post noted that “Cantor was often the necessary link that bridged leadership and rank-and-file tea party members. ‘He’s the one guy everyone relies on to get things done for them,’ said one Cantor ally. Each time he twisted tea party arms, though, it cost him politically, raising suspicions among grassroots activists that Cantor was an impure conservative.” That sentiment was shared by the conservative-leaning Red State, which reported that Cantor “repeatedly antagonized conservatives.” And according to the Washington Post, Cantor was booed “at a May meeting of Republican activists in the district.”
The upshot of all this? David Brat, another Tea-Party backed politician, has gone from no-name challenger to Congressional front-runner. By way of introduction, let’s take a look at some of his views:
- Brat Was Affiliated With The Koch-Funded Cato Institute. Brat heads Randolph-Macon’s Moral Foundations of Capitalism Program, where he is a professor. The program is funded by the person who now runs the Cato Institute. Brat has also trumpeted attended at least two events at Cato in 2012.
- Brat Believes That If You Don’t Embrace Christian Capitalism, Hitler Will Come Back. Christian Tea Party candidates are certainly not unusual, but a trail of writings show that Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon college, has an especially radical theology to support his right-wing politics. In one paper, he issues a chilling warning about what will happen if churches fail to build a movement in support of free-market capitalism—namely, a Hitler-like figure could rise to power.
- That’s Not Stopping Him From Trying To Run From Policy Questions. In one of his first national television interviews, Brat tried to avoid answering specific policy questions, insisting that he “didn’t get enough sleep last night.” Instead, he stuck to generalities about “fiscal issues and the Republican creed,” telling MSNBC host Chuck Todd that he believed in “free markets, equal treatment of everyone under the law, fiscal responsibility, adherence to the constitution, and a strong defense and faith in God and strong moral character.”
Check out some other radical positions he holds from the progressive watchdog group American Bridge.
BOTTOM LINE: Eric Cantor’s loss was historic, but it is a false reading to think that voters were punishing him for supporting immigration reform. Meanwhile, his opponent David Brat couldn’t go even a few hours into the general election without showing his extreme positions on all kinds of issues.