The rise and fall of Eric Cantor: A timeline

This post has been updated.

The analysis concerning House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's unexpected loss in yesterday's Virginia primary has been pouring in for hours and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Was it his shifting political priorities? The mood in the district? Immigration? Democrats crossing over to meddle?

Everyone is trying to figure out what this means for the future of the GOP. But, looking at Cantor's past -- how he got to Tuesday night -- is a useful way to trace the volatile state of the GOP in recent years. Here's our attempt to trace the timeline of Cantor's rise -- and fall.


WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speaks to the media during a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Leader Cantor spoke to reporters after attending a closed meeting with House Republicans. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

June 1981: Eric Cantor graduates from the Collegiate School. Under his yearbook photo reads the quote, "I want what I want when I want it." Thirty years later, this quote will reappear during the debt-limit negotiations.

January 1992: Cantor is sworn in as a Virginia state delegate. He serves until January 2001.

August 1994: Virginia state delegate Eric Cantor originally supports Oliver North's opponent in the 1994 Virginia Senate race, but changes his mind. The New York Times reported, "'I had reservations that Ollie could do well in a general election,' Mr. Cantor said, sporting an 'Ollie!' sticker on his lapel. 'But the fact that he allegedly lied to Congress helps him because people don't trust Congress.'"

June 2000: Eric Cantor wins the Republican primary for Virginia's 7th District seat by 0.6 percentage points.

2002: Cantor is appointed chief deputy Republican whip.

November 2002: Cantor beats Ben Jones, former "Dukes of Hazzard" actor, to win re-election.

September 2004: Cantor introduces legislation to make foreign residents show their visas before they can obtain a drivers' license. He reintroduces similar legislation in March 2005.

October 2004: The Almanac of American Politics predicts that Cantor will not  "have to worry about reelection for the remainder of this decade."

August 2008: Republican presidential candidate John McCain considers choosing Cantor as a running mate, according to Cantor sources. McCain insiders insist Cantor was never seriously in the running.

November 19, 2008: Cantor is unanimously chosen as the Republican whip.

January 2010: Cantor gives money to Virginia state Sen. Robert Hurt, who was running as a moderate Republican candidate in the 5th District. The tea party did not like Hurt, but he still won the primary (and the general election).

May 2010: Cantor helps start the House GOP program YouCut, which asks the public for feedback on which government programs should be cut.

July 2010: Cantor decides not to join the Tea Party Caucus. He tells ABC News, “Because in my case, I would say that the kind of folks that I have talked to in my state and others that are connected with the tea party movement — they are best at home. They’re from the grass roots. The tea party movement, in my opinion, has been an organic movement that has born out of the frustration aimed towards Washington about the spending and the inability to lead. And in fact, tea partyers, in my opinion, are not monolithic. They depend on where they live, and their view has a common thread, and that is to cut spending and to be more fiscally accountable. So I think it’s better left to the people in my district and others to continue to step up and deliver what it is they want to see without imposing Washington views on their agenda.”

September 2010: Cantor, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) publish "Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders." They start a super PAC to help elect young conservatives, and they say that more than two-thirds of the candidates the Young Guns Action Fund supported in 2010 managed to get elected.

October 2010: Eric Cantor does not attend the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention. An article in The Washington Post notes that his "penchant for pork barrel spending has earned him open Tea Party scorn."

December 2010: Cantor votes against the Dream Act, which would have given legal residency to many young immigrants.

January 2011: Cantor becomes House majority leader.

January 2011: Cantor tells the new batch of conservative representatives now in the majority that "this is our moment" at a retreat in Baltimore.

July 2011: Democrats blame Cantor for the difficulties of the debt-limit talks.

October 2011: New York Magazine profiles Cantor, who is getting major media attention for his role in slowing down a resolution to budget talks. Jason Zengerle writes,

Cantor’s role as Obama’s nemesis, as the National Review recently dubbed him, is remarkable for several reasons—none more so than the fact that, although he’s now the darling of the tea party, he initially rose to power in Washington by standing for almost everything the tea party is against.

February 2012: GQ calls Eric Cantor, "widely presumed to be the next GOP Speaker of the House," the most powerful man in Washington. The magazine explain the honor by saying:

The Republican whom Democrats — especially Obama — hate most. The Virginia Congressman masterminded, and then masterfully carried out, the GOP's strategy of legislative intransigence that has stymied the White House these past three years. In the process, he imposed his will on all of Washington, refashioning the city into a hyperpartisan capital of gridlock.

March 2012: Cantor endorses Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.

June 2012: Cantor wins his Republican primary -- but by the slimmest percentage since his narrow victory in 2000. His leadership PAC -- Every Republican Is Crucial PAC -- is the highest-spending one in the House, a distinction it has kept up.

2013: Cantor votes against the president 88 percent of the time. In 2003, he voted against the president 0 percent of the time.

January 2013: Cantor votes against the fiscal cliff deal.

January 2013: Cantor tells the Huffington Post that the GOP needs to change tactics. "I still believe that there are things that need to take place in fixing the big, macro fiscal problems of this country. I'm not backing off that at all. But what I can see is this president won reelection. It is going to be tough in dealing with him on those issues."

February 2013: Cantor says that undocumented young immigrants should be given legal residence and a path to citizenship. He tells the American Enterprise Institute: "One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home."

March 2013: The New Yorker publishes a profile of Cantor, who seems torn -- or at least wants to appear torn -- between the tea party and the long-term needs of the Republican Party. Ryan Lizza writes:

Cantor sounded chastened, or, at least, like a man wanting to appear chastened. “'We’ve got to understand that people don’t think Republicans have their back,” he said. “Whether it’s the middle class, whether it’s the Latino or the Asian vote.” It was not "necessarily our policies" but, rather, how “we’ve been portrayed.” He added, “It goes to that axiom about how people don’t really care how much you know until they know you care. So we’ve got to take that to heart and, I think, look to be able to communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing."

November 2013: Pro-immigration protesters visit Cantor's house in Arlington, Va.

January 2014: Speaker of the House John Boehner and Cantor list immigration as a big priority for the year.

January 2014: Cantor's primary opponent, David Brat, tells the National Review, “I want to be Eric Cantor’s term limit."

March 2014: The Washington Post looks at Cantor's move to be more moderate -- as he looks ahead to the future of the Republican Party -- and how the conservative representatives he was so chummy with in 2010 have responded.  “Those of us who elected Eric expected him to be a lot more aggressive than he is right now,"  Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told WaPo's Bob Costa.

May 2014: Richmond conservatives gets increasingly frustrated with Cantor. Cantor's predecessor in the House tells The Washington Post: “The conservatives are becoming more vocal. Once I was elected back in 1980, I didn’t have a primary fight for the 20 years I was there, and this is the first time Eric has had a serious or semi-serious primary opponent. You have people who are frankly disgusted with Washington, and he is a visible symbol.”

May 2014: Cantor gets booed by tea party activists in his district.

June 2014: Eric Cantor loses his Republican primary by more than 11 percentage points.

July 2014: Cantor will step down as House majority leader.

Correction: This post originally stated that Cantor beat Ben Jones in a Republican primary. Cantor beat him in the general election in 2002.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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