Last week college economics professor David Brat trounced House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Republican primary for Virginia's seventh congressional district. Prognosticators thought that Brat, a favorite of Tea Party supporters, was a long shot. How could he win? Hadn’t the Tea Party been on the wane? Now, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson warns, the Tea Party “should no longer be thought of as just a faction of the GOP. It’s calling the shots.” What's clear is that Tea Party voters turn out in droves and care passionately about politics. Many of those Teapublicans are also fervent Christians of the evangelical stripe.
The swift and unexpected political demise of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) at the hands of his own party’s primary electorate last night has already called forth endless analysis. Beaten by an economics professor who ran on a shoestring and whose major source of institutional support came from talk radio hosts, Cantor has been charged variously with focusing too much on preparing to be the next House speaker, with running an ineffective campaign that spent no money on voter contact but $200,000 on steakhouses, with being too soft on immigrants (Cantor proposed a path to legal status for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children), and with being too negative and unfair in his campaign ads. There is even speculation that Cantor was defeated by Democrats voting in Virginia’s open primary. Whatever the mix of factors, the primary defeat of a House majority leader—something that has apparently never happened in the 115-year history of that office—indicates a politician, and a party, caught sleeping by a restless electorate.