Even as the shocking news of Eric Cantor’s defeat reverberated around the political world last night, returns from South Carolina quickly showed Sen. Lindsey Graham, a far more likely target of Tea Party wrath than Cantor, cruising to an easy re-nomination against six opponents.
Some MSM folk seemed to take comfort in Graham’s win as salvaging some Republican Establishment honor last night. I expect we’ll hear some voices today arguing that the South Carolina results were the more important in terms of the future direction of the GOP, and that Cantor’s loss should be written off as the product of poor constituent services, bad consultants and pollsters, or devious crossover-voting Democrats.
Well, there’s no doubt Lindsey Graham is a better retail politician than Eric Cantor. But more to the point, his method of coping with the Tea Party hordes looks to be far more effective. Cantor sought to slowly bring the “constitutional conservatives” along into a “reform conservative” project that would supplant the existing GOP ideology with a more positive “populist” agenda to remake government rather than simply seeking to destroy it. Graham chose a couple of big stupid right-wing themes (Benghazi!) and whaled away at them, buying himself the political space to be heretical on other issues. It seems to have worked, but that’s cold comfort to conservatives who want the GOP to be built on something more durable than Benghazi!