Here’s the thing: Eric Cantor did not fall asleep in this race. He spent around $5 million. He ran lots of TV ads. He knew this was going to be a close one. He campaigned. And he still got creamed.
And here’s the other thing: Cantor was not an enemy of the Tea Party. He was in fact the Tea Party’s guy in the leadership for much of the Barack Obama era. He carried the tea into the speaker’s office. And still he got creamed.
Creamed! Has a party leader ever lost a primary like this? Stop and take this in. Like any political journalist, I’m a little bit of a historian of this sort of thing, although I readily admit my knowledge isn’t encyclopedic. But I sure can’t think of anything. Tom Foley, the Democratic House speaker in the early 1990s, lost reelection while he was speaker, but that was in the general, to a Republican, which is a whole different ballgame. And he was the first sitting speaker to lose an election since…get this…1862! But a primary? The No. 2 man in the House, losing a primary?
So what happened here? Obviously, first, it’s about immigration. That was David Brat’s (that’s the guy who won) whole campaign: Cantor was a liberal who supported a path to citizenship for the swarthy illegals. (He didn’t say that, of course, at least the swarthy part.) Immigration reform is D-E-A-D. There is no chance the House will touch it. That means it’s dead for this Congress, which means that next Congress, the Senate would have to take the lead in passing it again. (The Senate’s passage of the current bill expires when this Congress ends.) And the Senate isn’t going to touch it in the next Congress, even if the Democrats hold on to the majority. Those handful of Republicans who backed reform last year will be terrified to do so. And it’s difficult to say when immigration reform might have another shot. Maybe the first two years of President Clinton’s second term. Maybe.
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