The dust hasn’t yet begun to settle and I’m sure that somewhere, John Boehner is on his 3rd $200 bottle of merlot, trying to come to terms with the fact that Eric Cantor lost what had been seen as a perfunctory primary. Not only was the second most powerful member of Congress dispatched in a primary, it was by a complete underdog and a Tea Party candidate. Eric Cantor was seen as both a rival and the heir apparent to John Boehner, should the Speaker decide to retire.
It hasn’t been 24 hours yet and already, almost every writer has covered this story and I’m sure you’re already close to sick of the inundation of opinion pieces, all completely sure they have the EXACT reason Eric Cantor lost. But it’s a little more complex than that and his loss came out of a number of factors, all combining into that one-in-a-thousand chance of winning that actually came true. Oh, and despite various reports, Democrats voting for David Brat didn’t really contribute to Eric Cantor’s loss. So here’s five reasons why I think Eric Cantor lost, and more importantly, what liberals and Democrats can learn from this politically historic event.
5. The NSA is really, really unpopular: Eric Cantor was friendly to the NSA, David Brat absolutely hated it and made his opposition to the NSA part of his campaign. Establishment Republicans and Democrats are often seen (and rightly so) as being too cozy with the NSA and rubberstamping the intrusive surveillance programs that Edward Snowden confirmed the existence of. Under a Democratic president, surveillance programs are especially unpopular with the far right because, you know, “Obummer is going to use these to take mah freedumz!” On the left, the NSA is also unpopular, especially with the more libertarian demographic (yes, it does exist). Any politician running for reelection would do well to distance themselves from being associated with anything to do with supporting the NSA for the near future.
4. Never underestimate your opponent, ever: Eric Cantor honestly thought he had this one in the bag, despite his constituents’ displeasure with his support for immigration reform, something that boiled over in a bizarre incident at the end of his concession speech. Immigration reform is extremely unpopular with Tea Party voters, and while it may not have been the main reason he lost, it certainly was a contributing factor. Also, relying on pollsters to tell you where you are in relation to your opponent is a good way to get complacent.
3. The Tea Party isn’t dead yet: With the defeat of many Tea Party candidates in recent primaries, many politicians and writers had already writing the eulogy for the Tea Party. While the GOP civil war is raging on, it is silly to write off the Tea Party just yet. Count on them scoring small victories here and there for at least another couple of election cycles.
2. Money isn’t everything in politics: Eric Cantor outspent David Brat 26 to 1 and blistered him in campaign ads, and he still lost. Yes, the unrestricted flow of money into politics after the Citizens United decision is a problem, but at the end of the day, money still doesn’t equal a victory. We can talk all we want about getting money out of politics, but until we elect candidates who are willing to pass that legislation, nothing is going to happen.
1. Voting counts: The most important thing we can take away from Eric Cantor’s stunning defeat is that no matter what the polls say, no matter how much money is spent and no matter what the media says, an election is not decided until votes are cast. At this time, there isn’t a surefire way to convert money directly into votes. I know a lot of people like to say that the system is rigged, but that’s a cop-out – a lousy excuse to skip their civic duty to vote. If the game was rigged, Eric Cantor would have cruised to an easy victory and wouldn’t have stepped down as Majority Leader today. Yes, districts are gerrymandered and the odds are often stacked against Democrats, but that’s still no reason not to make your voice counted at the ballot box.
The result of this primary election is that we now have an open Congressional seat up for grabs in a Republican-leaning district with two previously unknown candidates, including Democratic candidate Jack Trammell who now has at least a decent shot at representing Virginia’s 7th district next year. I encourage you to go “like” his Facebook page, contribute if possible, and if you live in his district, please volunteer to assist with his campaign.
And once again, here’s what’s at stake this coming November:
—All 435 seats of the U.S. House of Representatives
—33 seats in the U.S. Senate
—46 State Legislatures
—38 State and Territorial Governorships.
Are you registered to vote? Do you know who is on the ballot in your district? If not, turn off the TV and put down your iPad. It’s time to get to work.
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