While analysts have gone wild speculating on Eric Cantor’s defeat, a few voices of sanity have emerged. One of them is Newt Gingrich. His thoughts below show a deeper look at Cantor’s campaign vs. Lindsey Graham’s dispelling the knee jerk reactions of the left and right.
Tuesday night’s primaries had two interesting results.
First, in a shock which can legitimately be called a political earthquake, House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his seat in Richmond, Virginia after 13 years of service in Congress.
Second, in a turnaround from what many observers might have predicted two years ago, Senator Lindsey Graham won his primary by a wide margin.
The news media is focusing on the Cantor defeat only, but that is misleading.
Graham potentially had fully as much grassroots opposition as Cantor. He knew it and he responded to that reality. Senator Graham went home frequently, listened to his constituents’ complaints, explained his policies and emphasized the points on which they agreed.
Graham understood the first rule of American politics, which is that the voter is King. The voter loans power to the elected official but they can always take it back. Wise elected officials always remember that power really does come from the people.
In retrospect, Cantor’s constituents clearly believed that he had forgotten this fact. In the last few weeks, there were a few indications of trouble for the Leader. At an event in his district, conservative activists booed him. His preferred candidate to chair the congressional convention was also defeated.
Cantor’s opponent, Dave Brat, is a local college professor who was virtually unknown until the Cantor campaign began running attack ads against him. It may be that the attacks reminded voters that there was an alternative–that they were ultimately sovereign–and tempted them to exercise that power against one of the most senior members of Congress.
Cantor should sue his pollster and his consultants for malpractice. They outspent the challenger 25 to 1 and lost. They spent almost as much on steakhouse dinners ($170,000) as Brat’s entire campaign spent (about $200,000).
Cantor is a very smart, hard-working, and serious man with an admirable record of 13 years of service in Congress and another decade of service in the Virginia legislature before that. Losing a race does not have to be the end of the line. Bill Clinton lost the governorship in 1980 after one term and came back to serve ten more years in the Governor’s mansion. I lost my first two races for Congress.
If Cantor slows down, visits with folks in his district and reflects on the lessons of leadership in a free society, he could well end up as governor or a senator. He could also pursue a career in the private sector or become a cabinet officer in the next Republican presidency.
There was one other big winner Tuesday night. The Independent Women’s Voice organization has developed a pledge to repeal Obamacare. Brat signed it. Cantor did not. Chris McDaniel signed the pledge in the Mississippi Senate primary and is now ahead in a runoff against a 36-year incumbent.
Clearly, repealing Obamacare will have to be a major Republican pledge this fall.
I was surprised at the intense reaction to Cantor’s defeat I got from a number of old friends around the country. They weren’t mad at Eric as a person. But they were infuriated with the general Republican failure to fight Obama effectively and saw the loss as a signal of that frustration.
On Friday I will outline the challenge to Republican Congressional leadership in a post-Cantor world.