Following his defeat in last night’s Virginia primary, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has decided to step down as Majority Leader in advance of the end of his term in office, setting off a scramble for his position between multiple Republicans.
In the caucus that holds the House majority, the position of Majority Leader is second only to that of Speaker, the only congressional office explicitly mentioned in the original text of the Constitution. It’s a prestigious and powerful role to have.
So far, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Whip, and Pete Sessions, the current chairman of the Rules Committee, seem to be the top contenders. Others may run, too. Jeb Hensarling, who, like Sessions is from Texas, has hinted he may throw his hat into the ring, following encouragement by a number of right wing groups.
Cantor, meanwhile, has accepted defeat and does not plan to pursue a write-in candidacy, as Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski successfully did in 2010. “To run a write-in campaign is to run not as a Republican, and I am a Republican,” Cantor allegedly said in a meeting of the Republican brass in the Capitol.
Cantor’s demise is one of the biggest political upsets in history. No sitting majority leader has been denied renomination in more than a hundred years. And few saw Cantor’s defeat coming. National tea party groups had concluded that Cantor would win his race, and so paid little attention to David Brat. But Brat was boosted by a local network of Tea Party activists as well as right wing talk show hosts like Laura Ingraham, who called in to Megyn Kelly’s show on Fox to celebrate last night.
Cantor ultimately became his own worst enemy. He became complacent, and voters often punish complacency with a vengeance. He didn’t spend much time in his district or prioritize his constituents. He was too busy trying to attain more power.
Though Cantor had embraced the Tea Party movement as Majority Leader, it didn’t inoculate him from a primary challenge. Cantor and his people did not dismiss David Brat’s candidacy – they spent millions of dollars in the runup to yesterday’s election – but they acted as if all they had to do was buy some advertising and they’d win.
They were soundly defeated by a campaign that didn’t have much money, but did have shoe leather and passion, and put it to good use.
Judging by his media appearances, Brat was clearly not expecting to win, and despite being an economics professor, doesn’t seem to have thought through all of his positions. Prior to yesterday, he was the grassroots alternative to Eric Cantor who didn’t stand a chance. Today he’s the Republican nominee.
Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd about his position on the minimum wage, Brat squirmed. “Um, um, um, I don’t have a well-crafted response on that one,” he told Todd (again, despite being an economics professor and the chairman of Randolph-Macon College’s economics department).
And when Todd asked about foreign affairs (“On a foreign policy issue, arming the Syrian rebels. Would you be in favor of that?”) this was Brat’s response:
“Hey, Chuck, I thought we were just going to chat today about the celebratory aspects… I’d love to go through all of this but my mind is — I love all the policy questions but I just wanted to talk about the victory ahead and I wanted to thank everybody that worked so hard on my campaign. I’m happy to take policy issues at any time, I just wanted to call out a thanks to everybody today.”
What a revealing answer.
Does Brat not realize that United States Representatives are lawmakers? He’s not competing in a beauty pageant, he’s running for Congress. It’s quite appropriate for Chuck Todd to ask for his views on a thorny foreign policy issue.
Meanwhile, Brat’s general election opponent, Democrat Jack Trammell, who also works at Randolph-Macon College, is getting lots of help revving up his campaign. During the last twenty-four hours, he’s gotten a website up, established a Facebook page, and received an avalanche of offers of help.
The Virginia Democratic Party is fielding media inquiries for his campaign and helping him build infrastructure for a fall campaign. The district has a strong Republican lean, but is certainly not impossible for a Democrat to win.