The astonishing, unexpected outcome of Virginia’s 7th congressional district Republican primary election erupted across the political landscape last night. In what most are calling a Tea Party victory, a virtually unknown and relatively unfunded professor of economics at Randolph-Macon College named Dave Brat surprised everyone by blowing incumbent House of Representatives Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, clear out of the water by a landslide 11-point margin.
Nobody saw it coming–even an incredulous Brat himself, who declined to make any kind of victory statement until he was sure the results were for real.
“It came out of nowhere,” said Stuart Rothenberg of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Reporter, quoted in the Los Angeles Times. “It was a stunning, unimaginable, impossible defeat.”
In his victory speech, Brat quoted Scripture: “I went to my family and this little note is hanging on my door every day and I read this every day. It’s Luke 18:27. Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.'”
Just a few days before, the Cantor campaign had claimed that their internal polling showed the incumbent ahead by a whopping 34 points, and other polls also showed Cantor leading going into election night. Cantor has been perceived widely among the political establishment as a rising star in the GOP, positioned as a possible replacement for John Boehner as Speaker of the House.
“While he’s got his eye on the Speaker’s job, he’s turned his back on his constituents,” Brat was known for saying on the campaign trail, when referring to his opponent.
Brat’s upset victory is huge. No House Majority Leader, of either major party, has ever been defeated by a primary challenger since the position was invented in 1899.
Adding to the drama and severity of the upset is that Cantor out-spent Brat by an extremely lopsided ratio of around 40-1; according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Cantor spent over $5 million, whereas Brat spent only a comparatively paltry $122,000.
Voter turnout in the primary was low, but the decisive outcome has what some political analysts are calling “apocalyptic” national implications. The message to complacent, business-as-usual GOP establishment incumbents is clear and resounding: Be very afraid. The Republican rank-and-file are pissed off, fed up, and about throwing the bums out.
While some key Tea Party-targeted “RINO” incumbents, such as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, comfortably survived diffuse Tea Party challenges, it’s alarmingly plain now that no establishment Republican can consider his seat safe from a primary insurgency.
Cantor appears to have reaped–deservedly, from the grassroots level–the disastrous consequences of having rather cravenly tried to play both sides of the illegal immigration debate, along with other grave missteps.
In spite of often trying to position himself as a Tea Party-flavored candidate, Cantor ultimately joined with Democrats and other key establishment Republicans (“RINOs”–Republicans In Name Only) to push for quasi-amnesty immigration legislation at a time when record numbers of American citizens are jobless and discouraged from even looking for work. He also defected to vote with Obama Democrats to yet again raise the federal debt ceiling, despite runaway federal spending, incalculable trillions in unfunded liabilities, and abject fiscal corruption in bloated, redundant, wasteful federal agencies everywhere one looks.
Then there was the glaring fact that Cantor chose to attend and be a headline speaker at the highly controversial, George Soros- and union-funded (to the tune of at least $350,000) “Republican Main Street Partnership PAC” conference retreat on Amelia Island, Florida, two months ago. The group is oriented toward helping establishment Republican incumbents to fend off Tea Party challengers, and it has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to entrenched GOP candidates toward that end. Despite the Cantor campaign’s pleas that his participation at the conference was merely to listen to all sides of the issues, it obviously won him no favor among those who chiefly showed up at the polls last night.
Such insular Beltway behavior from many Republican leaders has frustrated and angered millions of bedrock conservatives throughout the heartland (many of them identifying with the movement known as the “Tea Party”), and even in the precincts of Virginia not very far outside Washington, D.C. itself, in Eric Cantor’s soon-to-be former district.
As for whether Professor Brat, who calls himself a true conservative and an advocate for upholding the 10th Amendment–among other key appeals to Tea Party enthusiasts–is really a Tea Party champion, there’s some question. He himself denies that he necessarily represents a Tea Party faction of voters, and major Tea Party organizations mostly ignored his candidacy–he received only scant token contributions from known national Tea Party groups, and his calls to one such organization even went unanswered. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that Brat’s positions, speeches, and candidacy overall distinctly represent the Tea Party brand of American conservatism, when juxtaposed with the relative RINO apostasy and dereliction of Eric Cantor, who became seen by Tea Party purists as a squishy, unpalatable, Democrat-lite reject.
For that matter, it’s easy to see which kind of voters turned out in Virginia’s 7th district GOP primary last night. Brat’s upset win can fairly be termed a Tea Party earthquake.
In a slightly ironic, added twist on the suddenly changed electoral equation in Virginia’s 7th congressional district, Dave Brat will face one of his fellow Randolph-Macon professors at the polls this November: Jack Trammell, the Democrat nominee for the 7th district, teaches sociology at the Ashland, Virginia college.
So how do you like them apples?