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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Cantor Takes Down Republican Establishment

By now you’ve probably read all the basics about the stunning defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in VA-07 yesterday (if you haven’t, see J.P. Green’s earlier post). I’ll confine myself to a couple of brief excerpts from my take late last night at TPMCafe about the bigger picture:

For the first post-primary Wednesday this year, I’m not having to poke holes in the pre-ordained MSM narrative for this campaign cycle, The Year of the Republican Establishment, wherein the Great Big Adults of the GOP were supposed to put down the unruly Tea Folk and position their “pragmatic” party perfectly for smashing victories in 2014 and maybe 2016 as well. I’d say the Republican voters of the 7th congressional district of Virginia put that meme to rest for the immediate future.

Ah, but wasn’t Lindsey Graham’s easy win in SC a counter-indicator, showing mainly that Cantor just ran a bad campaign which other Republicans can write off as an anomaly? I don’t think that’s the lesson they’ll take:

It’s unclear yet what Cantor’s demise means in terms of the succession to power in the House GOP. But there’s little question this contest will reinforce the tendency of Republican officeholders everywhere to protect their right flanks with all their might, and that’s a more important victory for “constitutional conservatives” than having Dave Brat in the House.
Interestingly enough, a Republican incumbent initially considered far more vulnerable than Cantor, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, romped to victory yesterday without a runoff over a field of six opponents trying to exploit his RINO reputation. Graham had the same kind of financial advantage as Cantor enjoyed, but also made himself a chief purveyor of red meat to “the base” in his abrasive exploitation of the Benghazi! “scandal,” and more recently, his suggestion that Barack Obama was courting impeachment by his handling of the Bergdahl exchange.
Cantor has been a conspicuous sponsor of the “reform conservative” band of intellectuals encouraging Republicans to think more deeply about a positive governing agenda. He might have done better by emulating Graham and finding some decidedly non-intellectual buttons to push among right-wing activists. That’s a lesson that won’t be lost on Cantor’s soon-to-be-former colleagues in Congress, and on the emerging Republican field for president in 2016.

Sure, running a good campaign is always a good idea, and so, too, are good constituent services, which are qualities Lindsey Graham had and Eric Cantor lacked. But in the end, it was the tribute Graham paid to the ferocious Obama-haters in his party that probably made the difference. He’ll stick around the Senate to torment the administration on every foreign policy issue, while the orphans of the “reform conservative” movement shop their policy tomes around in search of a new patron.

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