COMMENTARY | House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, was defeated in the primary by David Brat, an upstart, underfunded economics professor. That the corridors of power in Washington have been shaken to their core is a mighty understatement.
Cantor’s defeat has been ascribed to his support for immigration reform, which many conservatives have suggested amounts to amnesty for illegal aliens. It did not help that the primary took place against the backdrop of a flood of unaccompanied children pouring over the southern border in their tens of thousands, clogging what amounts to ad hoc refugee camps at military bases in Arizona and Texas.
In a larger sense Brat won because he was able to convince the majority of Republican voters in Cantor’s Virginia district that their representative had forgotten his conservative roots and had become domesticated to the evil ways of Washington. Brat describes himself as unabashedly free market. He not only opposes immigration reform until the borders are secured, but opposes both tax and spending increases and favors the repeal of Obamacare.
Even though the major tea party organizations did not support Brat, his win is being called a win for the tea party over the establishment. Brat was outspent about 30 to 1 and was all but ignored by the media. He was a favorite of conservative talk radio, which seems to have helped him in executing his massive upset.
The upset extends to the larger 2014 election contest. 2014 was supposed to be the year that the Republican establishment finally put the tea party in its place in advance of nominating a nice, safe candidate in 2016 like Jeb Bush or Chris Christie. The poobahs of the Republican establishment are going to have to rethink that. Dave Brat is very likely to go to Washington as a living reminder that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans for the future.
The happiest man in Washington right now must be Ted Cruz, a tea party rebel who is a kindred spirit to Brat. Brat proved that even the most well-funded, powerful candidate can be humbled into the dust by a insurgent. In 2016 Cruz, if he decides to run for the presidency, will be in much the same position as Brat, the man the establishment loathes and who cannot possibly win.