It’s tempting to blame Eric Cantor’s shocking political demise on Tea Party-driven anti-immigration reform angst, Save Jerseyans, but if we were truly witnessing a wave of some sort, then Lindsey Graham (who Rush Limbaugh nicknamed “Gramnasty”) would be headed for a big law firm after Tuesday night’s results, too, but he’s not. And Steve Lonegan would be holding a press conference outside of Aimee Belgard’s campaign headquarters tomorrow morning…. but he’s not. Same goes for David Larsen. And Matt Bevin for that matter.
So what’s the “x” factor?
There isn’t one. I know, I know, complicated answers are hard for TV analysts, radio hosts, demagogues, spin masters and fundraisers to manipulate for their own ends. But the truth is what it is and I don’t see the utility in glossing over it; it also wouldn’t be fair to David Brat who, having won a race where he had only $230,000 to Cantor’s $5.7 million, he must’ve done something right. Right? Still…
Cantor wasn’t aided by externalities. For example? The Virginia GOP still hasn’t recovered its game. This once deeply-red state now has a Democrat in the Governor’s mansion and both U.S. Senate seats while clinging to a narrow one seat advantage in the state senate. Barack Obama carried the state twice. Simply put, the Virginia Republican Party needs to figure out how to win in Virginia again. It didn’t happen overnight; the long slide began with Jerry Kilgore in 2005 and culminated with Ken Cuccinelli last fall (and I don’t care how close it was, since “close” only really counts in horse shoes and hand grenades). Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that Eric Cantor, for all of his money, suffered for lack of the kind of ground game that a healthy state party would ordinarily extend one of its incumbents.
Other general factors include, but are not limited to, the Old Dominion’s damnable open primaries (allowing at least some Dems to meddle), Cantor’s penchant for focusing too much time and energy on palace intrigue in D.C. and not enough, perhaps, on his position at home, a woefully misguided strategy of demonizing his opponent as a “liberal college professor” when there’s no indication that he was anything of the sort (sound familiar?), and even the fact that the district was recently redrawn with more conservative voters/areas included, making a challenge from Cantor’s right more viable.
You don’t lose 8,000 supporters from your prior cycle’s primary vote total because of cross-party voting or one weak messaging angle. You also don’t lose 8,000 people over spending $168,000 in campaign cash at steak houses, although I’d humbly wager that that behavior is symptomatic of a campaign (and a candidate) that’s fatally lost its focus.
Pride always comes before the fall…. and steak, too, apparently…
Which brings us back to immigration. Huh?? Let me speak! There are a lot of conservatives out there like your Blogger-in-Chief who (1) would support an immigration compromise IF, and only (2) if the broken spigot of illegal immigration is repaired. Expired visas accounted for and border perimeters protected. Laws enforced! And IF (another huge condition) I was confident that we had a commander-in-chief who would stop letting hardened criminals out of jail.
Cantor and other members of the leadership were working on one such compromise at least up until Tuesday. My question: why? Why would you compromise today, five months from when your party is favored to take back the U.S. Senate and your bargaining position will be strengthened, and hand the President and his dysfunctional government a rhetorical victory? But one which wouldn’t help the country because it’d resemble another 80’s style amnesty bill that only exacerbated the problem?
Answer: I can’t give you one! ‘Cause it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, folks. Maybe they thought just appearing to do something about it would make the party look good? Or perhaps they truly believed it was the right thing to do? Was it naked hubris? Just too many years playing the inside baseball game to the point where affinity for process overwhelms basic common sense?
My theory: I think a critical mass of conservatives who aren’t necessarily affiliated with the Tea Party (like yours truly) felt less-than-sympathetic towards Cantor’s fate because of it. The silent GOP conservative majority knows pragmatism goes both ways; we’re tired of self-serving martyrs, but we also have little patience for the tactically-challenged. Or blind. Whatever.
It’s the closest thing to a magic “x” factor explanation you’re going to find today, or at least a lot closer to an answer than Mr. Brat’s $230,000…