House Majority Leader and second-ranking Republican Eric Cantor was beaten in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District Republican primary election Tuesday, an outcome that surprised pundits and left them wondering what the results will mean for the future of the GOP.
“(Cantor) suffered a defeat with few parallels in American history,” wrote The Washington Post. “Historians said that no House leader of Cantor’s rank had ever been defeated in a primary.”
Cantor’s opponent, Dave Brat, was a lesser-known candidate backed by the tea party, the Post continued. The political upset rocked the entire GOP, as even those who ran against Cantor weren’t expecting this victory, according to the Post.
Brat’s tea party support has caused some to wonder whether the movement is a stronger political force than previously imagined. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for one, believes Brat’s victory has significant implications.
“The results of last night’s election in Virginia are reverberating all through the nation’s Capitol,” Cruz said in a statement related by The Washington Post. “This election should be a reminder to all in Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — that the conservative base is alive and well, and the American people will hold us all accountable.”
Others think that while the election did mean something, it was promoting populism more than any tea party values. Ron Fournier wrote in the National Journal that populism, the concept of siding with the people over the perceived elites, is a growing political philosophy in America, and this election only proves it. Americans are voting atypically because they have lost faith in the two-party system’s ability to function.
“Let this be the lesson taken from Cantor's loss,” Fournier wrote. “He is not the only political leader to lose touch with voters. In fact, according to every indication, the entire political class has lost touch. There is ample polling to suggest that a majority of American voters don't feel rooted in, or represented by, either the Republican or Democratic parties. Change or lose power, folks.
“A violent revolution is unconscionable,” he also wrote. “But what may be in the air is a peaceful populist revolt—a bottom-up, tech-fueled assault on 20th-century political institutions.”
Ezra Klein of Vox argued that both of these approaches are wrong. While the election may have been surprising, he said, it ultimately has much less meaning than people are giving it.
“Though Cantor's defeat is national in its effects, less than three-hundredths of 1 percent of the people who voted in the 2012 House elections voted against Eric Cantor last night,” Klein wrote. “There is no grand ideological lesson to draw out of those results.”
The real cause of Cantor’s defeat, according to Klein, is his poor campaign. His tactics were weak and he didn’t reach out to voters as much as he should have, Klein argued.
“Last night Cantor proved himself a bad candidate running a bad campaign,” he wrote. “And that, above all else, is why he lost.”
Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2