In 1961, John F. Kennedy said: “In the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.” In November 2010, Eric Cantor said: “The Tea Party are … an organic movement that played a tremendously positive role in this election. I mean, certainly, it produced an outcome beneficial to our party when you’re picking up at least 60-some seats.”
Yes, Republican leaders happily rode the Tea Party tiger when doing so was convenient. Now, Cantor has fallen to the very forces he and his colleagues unleashed and encouraged. After an electoral earthquake that shocked the party’s system, the GOP’s top brass will be scrambling to figure out what lessons they should draw.
Unfortunately, they’ll probably absorb the wrong ones. Rather than taking on the Tea Party and battling for a more moderate and popular form of conservatism, they are likely to cower and accommodate even more.
Because immigration was a central issue used against Cantor by David Brat, the insurgent professor who defeated him by 11 points, the immediate betting is that House leaders will once and for all declare immigration reform dead for this session of Congress. Governing is likely to become even less important, if that’s possible, to House Speaker John Boehner. Just holding a fearful and fractious GOP caucus together will become an even greater preoccupation.
It might usefully occur to some Republicans that Cantor was not their party’s only incumbent challenged by the Tea Party in a primary on Tuesday. In South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham overwhelmed six Tea Party challengers, securing 57 percent of the vote and avoiding a runoff. While it’s true that Graham did what he could to satisfy his party’s ultras — for long stretches, it seemed that not a day went by when he didn’t use the word “Benghazi” — he did not, as Cantor did, twist this way and that on the immigration question. On the contrary, Graham defended his support of immigration reform and his vote for a bipartisan Senate bill.
Republicans who simply want to keep tacking right to maintain their power should also note that if the Tea Party helped mobilize support for them in 2010, it now threatens to reduce the party to a right-wing sect. The movement is very good at organizing its own, but it is doing little to attract new voters the GOP’s way. If anything, the party’s rightward drift is pushing people out. In December 2010, 33 percent of Americans told Gallup’s pollsters they considered themselves Republicans. Last month, only 24 percent did.
E.J. Dionne, Washington Post
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When analyzing the stunning defeat, one must take into consideration Karl Rove’s dream of permanent Republican majorities in all houses and branches of government, including the U.S. Supreme Court. The Republicans’ worst nightmare is any legislation of any type that would lead to citizenship for immigrants and thus voting rights for immigrants who overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
Evidently, Cantor somehow seemed vulnerable on this issue, but that would be only to those even further to the right than Cantor. So what was needed was a candidate even more staunchly against any type of immigration reform than Cantor was or was perceived to be. Now, there is one.
This anti-immigrant policy is multifaceted and includes every dirty trick to prevent immigrants from registering to vote and actually voting, as well as cutting all programs, even food stamp benefits, that might make them better prepared to become participants in our democracy. So if you believe in the American dream for everyone, you must consider for whom you are going to vote and that person’s position and his or her party’s stance on immigration reform.
Don’t worry about Cantor’s future; as was the case when Al Franken defeated Norm Coleman for U.S. senator, a job was found for Coleman commensurate with his talents and beliefs, and there most certainly is one awaiting Cantor.
In the June 8 Opinion Exchange section, one-time Hubert H. Humphrey staffer Norman Sherman published a superb retrospective about Humphrey and the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Cantor’s defeat presents our two Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Franken, with an even more daunting challenge to emulate the Happy Warrior and stand tall for immigrant rights as senators from a state among the leaders in accepting and integrating immigrants into our increasingly polyglot society.
Willard B. Shapira, Roseville
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Every political pundit in the country is writing about what Cantor’s defeat means. But how sure can we be that we know what it means? Essentially, none of the pundits, including me, had any inkling that he was going to lose — let alone by a large margin.
It is easy enough to attribute his defeat to the sentiment among conservatives that Cantor is not sufficiently hostile to an amnesty for illegal immigrants and that the Republican establishment is too squishy: too willing to raise the debt ceiling, vote for bank bailouts and so on.
But then why did Graham — who vocally championed the immigration bill, while Cantor distanced himself from it — win walking away in conservative South Carolina? Why did Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — who is just as much an establishment figure as Cantor and more favorable to the immigration bill — thump his primary opponent a few weeks ago?
Was the difference that Cantor was caught napping? It sure didn’t look as though he was taking the race for granted. He spent so much money on attack ads that his opponent’s supporters took to saying that Cantor was running scared.
Was it then the openness of the primary — the fact that Democrats could vote in it — that cost Cantor the seat? A lot of elections feature loose talk about strategic voting in the other party’s primary, but it rarely amounts to much.
I don’t have a satisfactory answer yet, but I’m not going to trust anyone who makes a confident pronouncement about what this election means unless he saw this result coming.
Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg View
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Cantor has represented the sprawling Virginia district that stretches from Richmond to the Washington exurbs since 2001 and was widely considered a likely House speaker someday. It’s worth noting that the district, while Republican, isn’t exactly the Deep South and that Barack Obama won more than 40 percent of the vote in the last two elections.
The Virginia result means that the remaining four months of this session will be dominated by internal jockeying for leadership posts among the majority House Republicans. Boehner may escape without a challenger, but there will be intense rivalry for the No. 2 and No. 3 House posts. The top contenders will be House Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, who would like Cantor’s job, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. Emboldened by the shocking Cantor upset, members of the Tea Party caucus almost certainly will demand one of the top three leadership posts for one of their own. The most likely standard bearers from this contingent might be Louisiana’s Steve Scalise or Georgia’s Tom Price.
Albert R. Hunt, Bloomberg View