Winners and losers from Eric Cantor’s astounding primary defeat

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) made history on Tuesday night -- just not the good kind. In losing his primary to unheralded and underfunded tea party candidate David Brat, Cantor became the first House majority leader to lose a bid for renomination.


House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, joined by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., center, and Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2014, after a Republican Conference meeting.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As we wrote Tuesday night, Cantor's defeat is absolutely colossal in its impact in and outside Washington. Such a major figure falling -- and falling SO unexpectedly -- produces a panoply of winners and losers.  Below I plucked out a few of the not-so-obvious choices. Whom did I miss? The comments section awaits!

Winners

* The tea party: Much maligned for its lack of organization and coordination, the tea party scored h-u-g-e in knocking off Cantor. Now, it's important to note -- as WaPo's Matea Gold did last night in this space -- that national tea party groups largely missed David Brat's candidacy entirely. But he quite clearly aligned himself with the tea party platform and bashed Cantor as a defender of the Republican status quo. Brat's win has already launched a thousand press releases from tea party candidates challenging incumbents across the country -- insisting that they are the next Dave Brat. They almost certainly aren't, but it's hard to overestimate how much of a jolt of energy his win gives to tea party efforts around the country.

* Jeb Hensarling: The Texas Republican -- chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and a favorite of conservatives -- seems like the person most likely to benefit from the suddenly wide-open slot as the second most powerful Republican in the House. On Tuesday morning, Hensarling said he is "prayerfully" considering whether to run for a leadership slot. (Other potential beneficiaries in the suddenly unstable leadership ranks: Georgia's Tom Price, Texas's Pete Sessions and Ohio's Jim Jordan.)

* House Democrats: The minority party was dead in the water when it came to making an argument about how/why the political environment could change enough to put the House in play. As soon as Cantor lost, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was declaring that it was a "whole new ballgame" for the midterm elections. That seems (very) overstated, but the schadenfreude coursing through the House Democratic caucus right about now is off the charts. In an election cycle that's given House Democrats very few good days, this is one.

* Randolph-Macon College: Previously known best as an annual opponent for Mrs. Fix's Catholic University field hockey team, the Yellow Jackets of Ashland, Va., are now on the map in a major way. Not only is Brat an economics professor at the college but Jack Trammell, the Democratic nominee for the 7th District, is also on the faculty.

* Political junkies: Holy cow, what a night. This is why people who love politics love it SO MUCH and can't understand why others don't, too. This was like a No. 16 team beating a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Absolutely amazing.

Tuesday night's primary loss for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor came as a shock to some. Here are five other instances when the democratic process took the country by surprise. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

 

Losers

* Ray Allen/John McLaughlin: In the immediate wake of Cantor's loss on Tuesday night, I reached out to a number of Republican political types -- those close to Cantor and those not. And, to a person when asked what went wrong, they put the blame at the feet of Allen, the campaign manager, and McLaughlin, the campaign's pollster. Asked why Cantor lost, one well-connected GOP operative sent this e-mail: "RAY ALLEN RAY ALLEN RAY ALLEN." McLaughlin fared little better, as many people pointed to the internal poll he conducted that showed Cantor ahead by 34 points. McLaughlin in an e-mail exchange with me Tuesday night blamed the defeat on a large number of Democrats crossing over to vote against Cantor. "Eric got hit from right and left," he said. But there's little evidence that's what really happened.

* John Boehner: On the one hand, House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) can thank his lucky stars that his primary is already over. Because if he had to withstand a tea party challenge in the post-Cantor world, it might be a lot more hairy than it was just a month ago. On the other, Boehner now has an all-out GOP leadership fight on his hands that seems almost certain to pit an establishment type (California's Kevin McCarthy) against someone (Hensarling?) from the conservative wing. Amid all of that jockeying beneath him, Boehner also has to consider his own fate beyond this Congress. It's hard to imagine that conservative elements within the GOP conference, already agitating to replace Boehner, won't be emboldened by what happened in Richmond on Tuesday.

* Immigration reform: Brat attacked Cantor as insufficiently conservative on immigration. And, while that issue alone didn't beat the majority leader, it certainly didn't help. While immigration reform was almost certainly not happening in this Congress anyway, Cantor's loss will scare lots of House GOPers from even considering the possibility for quite some time.

* Virginia: Cantor's defeat is the latest in a series of body blows for the Old Dominion. Retirements by Reps. Jim Moran (D) and Frank Wolf (R) were already robbing the state of much of its seniority and now Virginia lacks a voice in party leadership.

* Party leaders: Rising up the leadership ranks in Congress was once seen as the surest way to ensure reelection for yourself forever. After all, what sort of voter wouldn't grasp that throwing out a leader would mean a significant diminution in their relative power in Washington? Now, being a member of your party's leadership means a major target on your back. And voters are far less persuaded by the "I deliver for the district" argument than they were even a decade ago.

* Machine politics: Overlooked in all of the after-action analysis of Cantor's loss was the fact that he had alienated a number of conservative activists with his aggressiveness in using his political muscle to control Republican politics in and around Richmond. That heavy-handedness came back to bite him among the activist set who were mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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