By RAY KOLLS
Eric Cantor, meet Maximillian Robespierre. In the early 1790s Robespierre was one of the leading lights of the French Revolution. In 1794, a victim of the spiraling radicalism that he helped to unleash, Robespierre was guillotined without trial in Paris in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd.
Eric Cantor must feel the same way.
As all know by now, Cantor, the Republican House Majority Leader, was undone by the approximately 36,000 people in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District who voted for an unknown economics professor from Randolph-Macon College named David Brat. Because the 7th District in Virginia is reliably Republican, this means that it is the most partisan of voters who participate in the primary. With approximately 470,000 registered voters; Majority Leader Cantor was unseated by about 8% of registered voters in the district – the first sitting Majority Leader to lose since 1899.
There appear to be a number of reasons why Cantor lost the primary and some are specific to him. Apparently, he surrounded himself with a staff which was not attentive to the district and, like Cantor himself, paid more attention to running for the Speakership of the House than attending to business back home.
But the implication of Cantor’s loss for the national political scene is even more interesting. Cantor was no moderate; he was and is a solid conservative. But Brat found a way to run to right of Cantor. He did so by exploiting the fact that because Cantor was in the House leadership he had to occasionally –even in this age of Congressional dysfunction — engage in some actual leadership and governing.
For example, Brat made much of the fact that Cantor had floated certain ideas about a pathway to citizenship for certain immigrants and had participated in the compromises that ended the (most recent) government shutdown. Of course, the reason for taking these positions should be relatively clear. Republicans do need to support immigration reform at some point and in some way unless they want to hand the fastest growing demographic group in the Country – Hispanics — to the Democrats and make their party electorally irrelevant for the foreseeable future (except in safe Republican districts). With regard to the shutdown, the Republican leadership had to extract the party from that morass after it became clear it was becoming a disaster that the public was pinning on the GOP.
Yet those limited concessions to governmental sanity were all that an unknown political non-entity needed to inflame the less than 10% of the electorate that was sufficient to bring down the House Majority Leader. What is apparent about all of this is that by accepting the money and embracing the rhetoric that moved the GOP to the right; the Republican Party has created the very conditions in which hyper-motivated primary voters can unseat even reliable conservatives. This is even more likely to happen in the “safe” districts which are districted in such a way as to benefit incumbents and so contain larger percentages of partisan voters.
And in addition to irony, how bad for the Republican Party, and how bad for the Country?
The effect of Cantor’s demise at the hands of radical conservatives will be to make rank and file Congressional Republicans even less likely to compromise on issues of national importance. To do so will give Republican primary opponents room to run to the right of the incumbent and increase the risk a humiliating primary loss. This, in turn, will reinforce the trend toward dysfunction and gridlock in the Congress. It will mean no progress on immigration and a host of other important issues badly in need of reform. Any change will only become possible when a problem becomes so bad that it cannot any longer be ignored – such as the recent VA crisis which may actually attract bipartisan legislative action.
And so the Country will continue to suffer until the implications of the Republican conservative revolution launched by big money and partisan rhetoric run their course.
But as the old saying goes, every revolution eats its young. To the extent Representative Cantor rode the wave of the money and the rhetoric; it seems he met his political guillotine at the hands of a small but enthusiastic crowd who did not think him radical enough.