The media has been all agog about the defeat of Eric Cantor in his primary race and drawing all manner of sweeping conclusions. Is the Tea Party coming back to life after everyone declared it dead? Does this signal the end of any attempt at immigration reform? Does this mean that any Republican who deviates even the slightest from unwavering opposition to anything that president Obama and the Democratic party propose is now likely to be defeated?
Political analyst Norm Ornstein from the American Enterprise Institute says that this result signals that the old GOP divisions between moderates and conservatives are long gone and that we should get ready for a much more extremist party.
Now it is different. There are no moderates or progressives in today’s GOP; the fight is between hard-line conservatives who believe in smaller government and radical nihilists who want to blow up the whole thing, who have as much disdain for Republican traditional conservatives as they do for liberals.
In our 2012 book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” Tom Mann and I described the Republican Party as an “insurgent outlier.” That is even more true today. The energy and driving force in the party, in its House membership, media dominance, caucus and primary electorates and financial backers, is not its conservative wing but its radical side.
While I agree with Ornstein in his general view, I am not sure that I see any deep significance in this particular result. After all, the number of voters in off-presidential year primaries is so low that there can be a lot of variability in the results due to statistical fluctuations. There were many Tea Party challenges to establishment candidates and maybe this outcome was the statistical outlier where a confluence of factors resulted in Cantor’s ouster.
The fact that he was so prominent may garner a lot of attention and discussion but it does not mean that the result can be interpreted as some major message delivered by the voters. The fact that he was a party leader and those people almost never get voted out in primaries is being seen as particularly significant. Incumbents in party leadership positions are thought to be safer because their influence can bring back a lot of pork to their districts. But some low-information voters think that the new person they elect will fill the same leadership spot as the outgoing person, instead of going to the bottom of the pecking order.
But we need shed no tears for Cantor. I fully expect him to become wealthy as a lobbyist as soon as he leaves office at the end of the year. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report tells us that David Brat, the person who defeated Cantor, wasted no time in playing the Jesus card.
(These clips aired on June 11, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)