WASHINGTON, June 11, 2014 – Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated by a relatively unknown rival in the Virginia primary yesterday. Apparently, his rival was not that unknown. He was defeated by Tea Party Candidate Dave Brat, an economics professor who has never held political office. Brat won despite having a fraction of the war chest that Cantor had ($40,000 vs. $2 million at the end of March). Brat attacked Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, highlighting that Cantor is an elite establishment GOP who has voted to raise the debt ceiling and supported immigration reform in the form of amnesty.
Dave Brat was outspent directly 22-1, and at higher rate if you consider the independent expenditures that were done on Eric Cantor’s behalf. Dave Brat was so far behind in fundraising that while Cantor was flooding the airwaves with commercials in Richmond, Brat could not even get on the air. Cantor’s reelection was all but guaranteed.
Cantor had his eyes on the big prize that he has always wanted. That is, being Speaker of the House of Representatives.
How did he lose?
Cantor treated his district with disdain. He refused to conduct Town Hall meetings. Eric Cantor ignored his base. Literally.
Then Cantor exhibited the hubris and entitlement he is so well-known for. First he refused to debate Dave Brat then he began negative attack ads against Brat that everyone in his district knew were absolute lies. Cantor’s ads alienated people more than they damaged Brat and drove up the number of voters who went to the polls for Brat.
And then there was amnesty. Cantor is strongly for amnesty, which is hugely unpopular in the 7th Congressional District. Cantor’s people realized this so they sent out a mailer talking about how Cantor was fighting Obama on amnesty. Meanwhile, just before the election, Cantor told a Richmond TV station that he is willing to work with Obama on immigration.
All those did was reinforce an image that Cantor was just another politician who was willing to lie and say anything to be reelected.
There was one other dynamic that really hurt Cantor. In Virginia, each Congressional District has its own Republican convention. This year, Cantor and his allies tried to control many of those conventions with a process called slating.
In Virginia, each county gets a certain number of delegates who can go to the convention. The number is so large that any Virginia Republican who wants to go to a convention as a delegate can. But Cantor and his allies went to a number of counties, limiting the number of delegates to a few hand picked supporters of Cantor, leaving a large number of conservative activists unable to attend.
Conservatives were furious about this.
If there was a day that marked the end of the Cantor campaign, it was May 10, 2014. That was the day of the District 7 Republican convention. At that convention, Cantor’s hand picked crony was the candidate to be reelected. The convention had even been rigged so that Cantor’s man would be reelected. He was not reelected.
Tea Party activists and other conservatives had other thoughts. Cantor’s man was voted out and Cantor was booed off the stage.
Eric Cantor’s defeat is a story of a massive ego, a shockingly incompetent campaign and a sitting member of the House of Representatives who totally lost touch with his district.
It is also a lesson for the GOP.