House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in yesterday’s Republican primary by an upstart college professor with tea party ideas is indeed a crucial moment in Virginia politics.
Few expected Cantor would lose. Hardly anyone predicted that David Brat, a conservative economics professor from tiny Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, would win so decisively in the 7th Congressional District, given Cantor’s comfortable and reliable base.
Here are my five takeaways about the result:
- Cantor, the second-most powerful member of the House and viewed by many as the next speaker, relied on many assumptions about his own political security and ignored warning signs, including a tea party-inspired shakeup in local GOP leadership.
- Backing such assumptions were wealthy and influential members of the Henrico and Richmond business community, who have become increasingly out of touch with voters.
- As Cantor ascended into national politics and megabucks fundraising, he forgot about his district. His rather imperial way of surrounding himself with bodyguards and distancing himself from ordinary constituents sent a bad message.
- Voters in the conservative congressional district, which stretches from New Kent to Spotsylvania Counties and includes Richmond’s wealthy suburbs, are smart enough to spot phonies. Cantor voted for just about every big-spending plan pitched by President George W. Bush and then tried to cast himself as a budget hawk as the tea party movement emerged.
- Brat scored by playing an anti-immigrant card in an ugly way. This reveals some nasty things about himself and his voters, and it could delay badly-needed immigration reform. There is already pushback. Immigration rights protestors showed up at the hotel where Cantor gave his concession speech Tuesday night, showing that the issue will not just go away. This gives Democrats an opportunity.