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Eric Cantor defeated by challenger Dave Brat

The pillars of political heaven are shaken by a victory that was supposed to be impossible.

If you went by House Speaker John Boehner’s statement last night, you could be forgiven for thinking Majority Leader Eric Cantor – a leading candidate to become the next Speaker – had been killed in some sort of freak accident: “Eric Cantor and I have been through a lot together, He’s a good friend and a great leader, and someone I’ve come to rely upon on a daily basis as we make the tough choices that come with governing. My thoughts are with him and Diana and their kids tonight.”

What actually happened is that Cantor lost his bid for re-election to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat, by an amazing 56-44 margin.  To describe Brat as an “underdog” would be an understatement.  The last time there was an underdog this big, he was speaking in verse and popping super-energy pills from his ring.  Cantor was a seven-term incumbent holding the second-highest leadership position in the House.  He had solid conservative credentials, with one huge exception, which we’ll get to in a moment.  He spent a million dollars just in the final month of the race.  Brat’s entire campaign spent less than $200,000.  To cite one of the more remarkable comparisons made last night, Cantor spent almost as much dining at steakhouses as Brat spent on his entire campaign.

My early reaction, after the race was called for Brat:

And so we rise this morning to read a thousand articles explaining how Cantor lost, with relatively little attention paid to how Brat won, coupled with frantic spin efforts from Democrats trying to portray this as everything from a suicide run by the “radical right” to an exercise in Republican anti-Semitism.  (If you seriously believe that Eric Cantor won seven terms, and then his constituents realized he’s Jewish and turned against him, you are a moron, and should probably go back to writing blog posts about how it’s awesome that Barack Obama is cutting deals with Hamas now.)

First things first: this was a race for the House seat from Virginia District 7, and that’s where it was won.  One of Brat’s big campaign themes was that Cantor spent too much time outside the district, raising funds and preparing for his impending ascension to Speaker.  Cantor had horrible internal polling, which assured him of a double-digit victory, and he wasn’t hearing much in the media to counter that false confidence.

Robert Tracinski, who lives in the district, summed it up this way at The Federalist:

For almost as long as I??ve lived here, which is coming up on 20 years now, the purpose of the seventh district has been to re-elect Eric Cantor every two years. It??s a strongly Republican district that spans across a very conservative stretch of rural Central Virginia, from the Richmond suburbs to Culpeper. So what were we going to do, vote for a Democrat? No, we were going to vote for Cantor.

And Cantor knew it. Because he didn??t have to worry too much about getting re-elected every two years, his political ambition was channeled into rising through the hierarchy of the House leadership. Rise he did, all the way up to the #2 spot, and he was waiting in the wings to become Speaker of the House.

The result was that Cantor??s real constituency wasn??t the folks back home. His constituency was the Republican leadership and the Republican establishment. That??s who he really answered to.

Guess what? Folks in the seventh district figured that out.

Many other factors could be fairly described as significant components of Brat’s victory, most notably immigration reform.  Eric Cantor was an amnesty crusader, particularly for young illegals, at a moment when a horrifying tidal wave of young illegals is rolling across the border and becoming a massive humanitarian crisis, which U.S. taxpayers are now informed they must spend $2 billion to deal with, and that’s just the opening bid.  The reason those kids are being flung across the southern border by their parents is blindingly obvious: they were invited.  They’re coming to claim the free citizenship the American Ruling Class has been promising them.

The consequences of lax immigration policy became a big story on the news – complete with sobering photos of refugee camp conditions – just in time to boost turnout and enthusiasm for Brat.  It’s not the only reason he won, but it’s the kind of issue that tends to energize voters and become a force multiplier for electoral victory.  It’s also a symptom of the “Establishment is my true constituency” mindset Tracinski described above.  Few issues divide the agenda of the Ruling Class from the desires of rank-and-file voters more sharply than “comprehensive immigration reform,” which rarely cracks the top 10 list of concerns for actual voters.  True, they tend to respond fairly well to the nebulous phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” in opinion polls, but when the brutal reality of what that means in practice becomes big news, their response becomes quite different.

The big question now is whether the rest of the GOP leadership – and really, the Democrat leadership too – get the message and back off amnesty, or double down and try to ram it through before the voters have anything further to say about it.  Since the point of all this, for the Left, is to remove control of the country from the hands of legitimate citizens, my guess is that they’ll take the wrong lesson from Cantor’s defeat and double down.

A general sense of insurgency against the Establishment surely played a role, and was probably the factor Cantor could have countered most effectively, if he had run his campaign a different way.  The Republican leadership would have been wise to incorporate the Tea Party, rather than declaring war against it.  This campaign season’s narrative was supposed to be “Establishment crushes Tea Party, which loses heart and fades away.”  It’s not working out that way, and one reason is that anti-Establishment voters don’t like reading all those op-eds that say they’re under attack, don’t have a prayer of winning, and must submit.

There are laments today that voters in Virginia were foolish to throw away the enormous power of Cantor’s incumbency, big-money connections, and leadership position in exchange for a rookie.  That kind of thinking is one reason we’re ruled over by a plodding herd of dinosaur aristocrats who accumulate immense power by virtue of residing in “safe seats.”  If it’s foolish to vote against the people in power, then why should anyone expect things to get better, ever?  (It is, however, not at all unreasonable to note that powerful incumbents are going to bring home a lot more bacon from Congress next term than upstart newcomers hated by the Party leadership… which is why we need congressional term limits, badly.)

I see a lot of pundits saying Cantor’s loss will send all sorts of “signals” to the leadership of both parties in Washington.  It’s a pity that we’re ruled by a distant, disconnected elite we can only communicate with by sending this sort of “signal,” and that it was sent by torching the congressional career of Eric Cantor, a fine man and an exceptionally intelligent member of Congress.  There’s speculation that he might run as a write-in candidate… which would turn this signal fire into a full-blown political conflagration.  For what it’s worth to him, I think he has many brighter future possibilities than muscling his way back into the seat like that.

Meanwhile, meet Dave Brat, who was supposed to be a footnote, but took the podium last night as the biggest story in America.

Update: Eric Cantor ruled out any notion of running as a write-in candidate today.  “I am not going to do a write-in.  I am a Republican and proud of that,” he told his staff.

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Written By

John Hayward began his blogging career as a guest writer at Hot Air under the pen name "Doctor Zero," producing a collection of essays entitled Doctor Zero: Year One. He is a great admirer of free-market thinkers such as Arthur Laffer, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. He writes both political and cultural commentary, including book and movie reviews. An avid fan of horror and fantasy fiction, he has produced an e-book collection of short horror stories entitled Persistent Dread. John is a former staff writer for Human Events. He is a regular guest on the Rusty Humphries radio show, and has appeared on numerous other local and national radio programs, including G. Gordon Liddy, BattleLine, and Dennis Miller.

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