Voters to pundits: ‘You’re not that smart’

Supporters of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., watch as he delivers a concession speech at a primary-night gathering in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, June 10, 2014. Cantor lost in the GOP primary to tea party candidate Dave Brat. Steve Helber / AP

No doubt that today will bring a feast of political analysis from the experts who yesterday were predicting that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor would win — probably easily — his primary battle against a Tea Party leader in Virginia yesterday.

Cantor lost. Proceed with caution.

What does it mean? Good question. Pew Research is looking back at polling it did earlier this year and isn’t surprised at all. Just 28 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners said the GOP was doing a good or excellent job in standing up for its traditional positions of smaller government, tax-cutting and conservative social values, while 70 percent rated their party’s job as “only fair” or “poor,” Pew said.

But Pew also says the reaction might be skewed by recent Republican losses:

Partisans tend to be happier with their parties when they’re winning. In five of six surveys since Obama took office in 2009, more Democrats than Republicans have given their party positive ratings for standing up for traditional positions.

During the Bush administration, Republicans were often happier than Democrats with their party’s performance.

Cantor, the only non-Christian member of the GOP House caucus, dropped $5 million on the race. His opponent spent a few hundred thousand.

“This is an earthquake,” said former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, a friend of Cantor’s, told the Washington Post. “No one thought he’d lose.”

Cantor irritated conservatives with his support for the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for children of immigrants who are undocumented. It never made it to the House floor, and probably never will now, if David Brat prevails in the general election.

Molly Ball at The Atlantic dampens any assertion that the results mean the Tea Party is back and immigration reform is dead.

The Tea Party has come up short in most of the big races where it played this year, and other, unapologetic Republican supporters of immigration reform, like North Carolina Representative Renee Ellmers and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, have held on in the face of primary challenges.

Cantor may have suffered more for his role as part of the unpopular House leadership than for any particular issue. After Republicans took the House in 2010, Cantor positioned himself as conservatives’ voice in leadership, a role in which he was blamed for scuttling the 2011 debt-limit deal that led to the nation’s credit being downgraded.

But he had since patched things up with Boehner, a turnaround that led many House Republicans in both camps—the hard right and the establishment—to be unsure they could trust him. Cantor was ambitious, perpetually billed as a “rising star” despite his seven terms in Congress, but his ideas, like his “Making Life Work” reform agenda, never seemed to gain traction within his party.

CBS/Slate’s John Dickerson says it doesn’t matter if other immigration-reform-embracing Republicans did OK yesterday. “All incumbents will think there is a monster hiding under their bed — and maybe they’re right,” he writes today, warning Republicans that all the party machinery won’t help a candidate who’s made his/her base mad. That’s hardly a new lesson.

“Cantor’s defeat is all about immigration,” John Hinderaker at the Powerline blog writes.

A vast gulf has opened up between certain Republican leaders, like Cantor and Paul Ryan, who seemingly are doing the bidding of corporate interests that would like to drive down wages, and the Republican rank and file.

Open borders is a disastrous policy, as we are seeing daily with the current influx of tens of thousands of Central American mothers and children, drawn by rumors of an Obama administration amnesty.

Importing tens of millions of new low-wage workers will also be a disaster for everyone whose bottom line won’t be enhanced by lower labor costs.

Cantor’s defeat is a wake-up call for all Republicans – and, hey, Democrats too – who would put narrow political advantage above the national interest.”

But the results probably don’t do much for non-Tea Party Minnesota Republicans, the New York Times suggests.

More broadly, Mr. Cantor’s defeat will embolden conservatives like Representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, who has openly complained that the leadership positions are occupied by Democratic or swing-state Republicans. The push will be for “red state” leadership.

Candidates could include Mr. Price, Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and brash newcomers like Representative Tom Graves of Georgia, Mr. Wasserman said. The message is that the House must be run by more conservative leaders.

Writing on Vox, the liberal Matthew Yglesias says “good riddance.”

Thanks to Cantor, instead of the big budget deal we got sequestration. Unlike a big budget deal, sequestration front-loaded fiscal austerity which hurt the economy in the short term. But also unlike a big budget deal, sequestration didn’t address the structural drivers of the long-term budget deficit — Social Security and Medicare.

Consequently, we got a budget deal that cut spending when it didn’t need to be cut while doing nothing to address the country’s long-term fiscal problems. For our troubles, we also got a period of about a week and a half when it looked like the country might plunge into a legal and financial crisis by running out of borrowing authority.

When Cantor went down, an entire generation of wannabees and opportunists went with him.

“This is bad for conversation; this is bad for the country,” Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, told CBS This Morning today. “He was a pipeline for Americans who just wanted to get things done.”

Pundits notwithstanding, at the end of the day, voters get to tell you what the voters are thinking.

  • John O.

    Rep. Cantor took his eye off the ball and paid the price for it.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Sounds like a case of someone being out of tune with his district in a big way. That being said, it’s long past time John Boehner give up the rostrum. You have no credibility when you let your Majority Leader get booted in a primary.

    • Jay T. Berken

      Who will seriously take over for Boehner if the Republicans keep the majority in the House. That person has to govern the country, not a club.

  • jon

    Gerrymandering is now a double edged sword, that’s my take away at least.

    Solid red is becoming tea party red. Republican establishment built a system where they aren’t conservative enough for the incredibly conservative district they built.

    Time will tell if the Dems will have the same problem, and if it will rise to the same scale. Blue districts might turn Green party in the not too distant future… and we’ll establish a federal government where nothing can be accomplished unless it is of the utmost importance (which is probably closer to what the framers of the constitution had in mind, and perhaps closer to what most americans are actually looking for… though with out the 24/7/365 news coverage of nothing getting done).

  • MikeB

    It’s still true that all politics is local. Cantor detached himself from his district. Everyone will project their top priority as the reason he lost or what the impact will be. Another “indispensable” leader added to the political graveyard.

  • Gary F

    Good to see you are reading Powerline Blog. That is one of the best sources of political opinion on the net today.

    He became out of touch with his district. Hopefully its a wake up call for many politicians out there.

    I wish it would have happened to Boehner or Reid. They’ve got to go.

    Except for immigration, he did a fairly good job. Sequestration was a GOOD thing.

    Tea Party dead? Nope. Almost everyone that Senator Ted Cruz endorsed or helped with their primary fight won. The final decision on this will be decided in November.

    This was a good thing if it shakes up the entrenched incumbent lifetime politician.

  • http://www.oldtokyo.com noodleman

    It was a primary; nothing to do with “being out of tune” to any voters except to the 6% of the electorate that holds sway. Also, it was a open primary – i.e. Democrats could freely vote for a Republican candidate. I suppose one could view that as “the enemy of my enemy is my (temporary) friend”.

    So, between achieving a plurality among a minority of activists and a minority of non-Republican voters this primary vote amounted to nothing more than the selection of David Brat to run as the Republican candidate for US Representative (VA) this fall.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      Let me ask this question. How do you know that conclusion is true? How do the pundits know any of their conclusions are true?

      How do we know the voters even knew who Brat was?

      All of the punditry involves giving voters — all voters — the benefit of the doubt that they were informed and deliberative in casting their ballots. How do we know that to be true?

      • http://www.oldtokyo.com noodleman

        True. The real test, however, will be in the November election. Given that pre-primary polls were giving Cantor a substantial lead, I can only assume (and, yes, I know how wrong that can be) that among the larger pool of Republican voters who could have voted – but didn’t – Cantor was their “primary” choice.

        Extrapolating results from a relatively small sample pool into the wider world is what got Coca-Cola into trouble, too, when it determined its New Coke would be a market pleaser. Still, one can hope that the larger body of Republican voters (i.e. the ones who didn’t cast a ballot in the primary but who will vote in November) will be turned off by Bart’s extremism. Possible scenario: Cantor can’t run as a Republican, but he can enter the race as an Independent.

  • r

    All I can say to Mr. Cantor is HAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • Greg W

    Maybe Brat told his students there would be no final if they all voted for him in the primary. Has to be better than plugging up Twitter.