Going into every election night, there are always one or two contests you think might possibly turn out entirely against expectations, even if you don’t have the evidence (or the chutzpah) to predict it. That’s how I felt on Monday about VA-07:
Don’t think it will happen, but wow, would a Cantor loss tomorrow ever screw up the Year of the Republican Establishment narrative!
— Ed Kilgore (@ed_kilgore) June 9, 2014
And it sure has. It’s safe to say we’ve seen the last column or pundit utterance for a while suggesting that the GOP has ended its brief period of healthy evanescence brought about by the Tea Party Movement, and is now settling down soberly to the task of governing beginning with a Senate takeover this year and then the presidency in 2016. If the House Majority leader can lose a primary to a college professor no one in Washington has ever heard of, and lose it badly, despite a 20-1 financial advantage, then no, the Republican Establishment is not in charge of its party.
I’m surprised more people searching for words on this development haven’t found the most obvious parallel: Newt Gingrich’s near-loss in a 1992 Republican primary in Georgia, just two years before he became King of Washington. At the time Gingrich was, like Cantor is today, the number two House GOPer. But he had been forced into an entirely new district by a Democratic gerrymander, and was criticized as a carpetbagger. More importantly, he did win.
It’s richly ironic that Cantor became this cycle’s (and perhaps any cycle’s) Tea Party head-on-a-pike, since not that long ago he was widely considered the Movement Conservative guy in the leadership, the natural intermediary between the clueless John Boehner and the restive GOP back bench. Dave Weigel has a piece today on the souring of that relationship, and how quickly it led to electoral carnage.
But the most important orphans of last night’s act of political parricide was probably the “reform conservative” intellectuals who looked to Cantor as a political patron. It’s no accident that their recent manifesto, Room To Grow, was published by Cantor’s YG [for Young Guns] organization.
Today we’ll hear lots of spin about how and why Cantor lost. Some, I am sure, will find a way to blame it on Democratic crossover votes or otherwise minimize its significance. But just go to any political Twitter feed last night as of about 8:00 PM EDT and you’ll see what a Shocker! it was. There were enough tweets using the term “Holy Crap” to fill up a small book.
You can read my own reaction piece from last night at TPMCafe.