In the most stunning upset of this election season so far, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election to conservative challenger Dave Brat on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, criticized Cantor for being too willing to compromise with Democrats on immigration reform. "It's nothing personal against Eric," Brat told PBS Newshour in a recent interview. "It's just I don't see what he's doing on immigration." Cantor insisted that "my position on immigration has never wavered," and that he opposed the Democrats' "amnesty" bill. But those assurances apparently weren't enough for Virginia's GOP voters.
Cantor has never faced a serious electoral challenge since his very first Congressional primary in 2000, which he won by only 263 votes. Only two years after joining the House, he rose to be chief deputy whip, then the number four position in the House GOP's leadership. In 2008, he became John Boehner's number two — and frequently pushed for harder-line conservative policies and strategies. According to a profile by Jason Zengerle, shortly after Obama's inauguration, it was Cantor's idea to deny the new president any Republican votes for his stimulus bill. This strategy of opposition appeared to pay off when the GOP won control of the House in 2010.
Almost immediately after Cantor was chosen as majority leader, DC insiders speculated about the possibility that he could overthrow Boehner as Speaker with the support of hard-line conservatives. What followed in 2011, according to Politico, was "a year of bitter behind-the-scenes fighting. "When Boehner began having talks with Obama over raising the debt ceiling that summer, Cantor talked him out of it, as he later told Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker.
However, when conservatives tried to organize a challenge to Boehner in January 2013, Cantor made clear that he wanted nothing to do with it, and backed the Speaker's policies ever since. Talk of a Cantor challenge died down — partly because this unified front with Boehner caused conservative activists to lose interest in a Cantor speakership.
There was little attention paid to the possibility that Cantor himself might be vulnerable on his right. Brat had only managed to raise about $200,000, while Cantor had a multimillion-dollar war chest. But Tuesday's result shows that the right-wing primary challenge is alive and well — and should strike fear into the hearts of any Republicans thinking of working with Democrats on immigration reform.
Further reading: For more on Eric Cantor's shocking loss, see the full storystream here.