Opinion

June 11, 2014

Cantor’s loss should be a wake-up call for politicians

Eric Cantor thought he was a shoo-in to become the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, when John Boehner eventually steps down. Instead, on Tuesday be became the first U.S. House majority leader in history to be defeated in his own party’s primary.

David Brat, a libertarian economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, crushed Cantor in a 56 percent to 44 percent landslide to win the Republican nomination for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. The results shocked the media, the Washington political establishment and possibly Brat himself. Going into Tuesday, not only did polls show Cantor winning but winning by a very comfortable margin.

So what happened?

Brat, who spent about $200,000 in the campaign to Cantor’s $5 million, hammered Cantor on immigration reform, an issue that Cantor seemed to support in Washington and oppose back home in Virginia.

A new survey by the liberal Brookings Institution found that a solid majority of Americans, including Republicans and self-described tea party supporters, favor some type of reform that would allow at least some illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States to gain legal status. But while support for immigration reform may be widespread, it isn’t very strong, even among Hispanics.

Among those who support immigration reform, few rank it a high priority and even fewer said it should be the top priority. By contrast, those who oppose legalization and support greater deportation of illegal immigrants say it is a high priority for them. The survey found that those who oppose immigration reform are more likely to vote than those who support it. And it found that those who oppose immigration reform are more likely to be Republican.

In short, Brat found an issue that Cantor was vulnerable on and hammered him on it.

He also hammered Cantor on his ties to Big Business and big lobbyists, the people Cantor raised all that money from.

And that attack touched on Cantor’s greatest weakness. According to several political pundits, as Cantor rose to greater positions of power in the House of Representatives, his constituent service began to suffer. He and his office didn’t do the basic things that local voters expected them to.

As conservative pundit Erick Erickson wrote, “Cantor lost his race because he was running for Speaker of the House of Representatives while his constituents wanted a congressman. The tea party and conservatives capitalized on that with built-up distrust over Cantor’s other promises and made a convincing case Cantor could not be trusted on immigration either.”

For all politicians, Cantor’s loss should serve as a warning against arrogance and against taking voters for granted.

And for Republicans, it should serve as a warning about their ties to Big Business. Being pro-free market and pro-business are two different things. Doling out tax credits and subsidized loans and other subsidies doesn’t encourage free enterprise. Republicans have to decide which master they serve, the voters who elect them or the people who fund their campaigns.

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