In what most media outlets are calling a stunning upset, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary to newcomer David Brat. The reasons for this coup have been the subject of much speculation.
Did Cantor take his seat – and his constituents – for granted? Did he simply fail to take his challenger seriously until it was too late? The folks at Salon certainly took Cantor’s seat for granted, dishing up a gem of an article that predicted his victory in true “Dewey Defeats Truman” fashion.
Did it all boil down to immigration? Were the voters in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District simply afraid that preserving the status quo would be a de facto approval of legislation that amounts to little more than amnesty in sheep’s clothing?
Is there any truth to claims that Democrats flooded the Republican primary in order to guarantee a candidate that would be more vulnerable in the general election?
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (AP)
Was a confusing primary process a factor? When the process changes based on the office in question or the type of candidate – state versus federal -- from convention to firehouse primary to committee selection to an official primary, the lack of a uniform method of selection can leave voters confused and frustrated. The end result can be a low turnout.
Was Brat’s victory the result of a true grassroots campaign? His popularity was definitely boosted in recent weeks by the support of radio and television personalities such as Laura Ingraham and Glenn Beck; but is it possible that the words of a pastor and economics professor just resonated? How else could we explain that Brat’s victory came in spite of the fact that Cantor had a financial advantage that was – politically speaking – astronomical: twenty-six to one.
Some, like Stephen Hamilton of AltCon Radio, fear that attention from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Glenn Beck on races like this one could turn the primary into a national referendum on immigration policy. Their influence could lead to a primary result that reflects national opinion on one particular issue rather than the true local views on all relevant issues.
Any and all of those things may be true. It is possible that all of those things worked together to unseat an incumbent who, by all assessments, was safe in his reelection bid. But in the aftermath of the upset, it is the reactions of the key players that I find most intriguing.
First, most Democrats seem to view the upset as a positive thing. They see a shift toward Tea Party “extremism” as something they are better equipped to defeat.
They cite cases like Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller, and Richard Mourdock as evidence that they win against the far right. But they forget that O’Donnell harpooned her own campaign with her “I am Not a Witch” television ad, Miller was ultimately defeated by a Republican, and Mourdock made an unfortunate comment without enough time past following the television interview that destroyed Congressman Todd Akin’s Senate run.
They conveniently ignore the successes of Tea Party backed primary challengers in Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Ted Cruz of Texas; as well as Gov. Nikki Haley, also of South Carolina.
Some of the Tea Partiers who helped to propel Brat to his primary victory are also claiming a win. They cheer the defeat of the “establishment candidate” as if the battle is over already. But they neglect the five months that remain between the primary and the coming general election.
That window – and the candidate’s actions within said window – resulted in Akin losing a commanding lead over Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. It allowed Sen. Lisa Murkowski the time to overtake the very candidate who beat her in the Republican Primary (Miller) and mount a successful write-in campaign against him.
That window poses a threat to any conservative because it gives generally unfriendly media outlets time to do everything in their power to submarine him. It gives his Democrat opponent time to bring in money and heavy hitting endorsements. And it gives Brat’s conservative following time to lose interest and momentum.
The Republican Party at large seems to be the only entity not claiming Brat’s win as a victory. They speak in unison with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz when she says this is “proof positive that the Tea Party has taken control of the Republican Party,” only instead of sharing her smirk – and her perhaps misguided optimism - they cue the funeral procession.
Democratic National Committee chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida (Credit: AP)
If hard right conservatives win primaries, they reason, it can only mean that the Republican Party as a national party is doomed. Neglecting the same Tea Party victories that the Democrats have, they continue to self-flagellate before the altar of “electability” – the practice that gave us truly “electable” presidential candidates such as Sen. John McCain and Gov. Mitt Romney
But here is what most people are forgetting.
Yes, a brand new candidate like Brat is generally more vulnerable than an incumbent. If he were running in a district that were more of a toss-up than Virginia's 7th District, that would likely be of greater concern. In order to beat any Republican – barring said Republican’s own ability to resist the temptation to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory - in such a district, the Democrats would have to spend a lot of money.
And in the current political climate, there are far better places for Democrats to spend their money. They are not terribly likely to throw money into a long shot at flipping a House seat that cannot possibly gain them the majority when they need to be infusing that cash into preserving every seat they can – and thus their majority – in the Senate.
Virginia Kruta holds a dual BS in Political Science and History from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, and writes from her home in the People's Republic of Illinois. Find her on Twitter @VAKruta or reach her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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