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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has lost his bid for re-election in Virginia District 7’s Republican primary. His opponent, economics professor and Tea Party-backed David Brat, won a resounding victory that will be discussed for many, many days to come.

I wrote a couple weeks ago that showings of GOP solidarity in Kentucky and elsewhere demonstrated that the party was not, contrary to punditry, on the verge of civil war. Albert Hunt says this result “undercuts” that claim. Joshua Green even thinks the GOP is “about to explode.”

However, doomsday prognostication ignores some important facts. Everything about Cantor’s defeat points to a significant disconnect between the Majority Leader and his constituency. John Fund points out that while David Brat spent $40,000 in his campaign, Cantor spent over $2 million, a great deal of which went to defensive, “vitriolic” ads that alienated voters.  Fund:

“Many constituents of Eric Cantor felt he had ignored them for years, rarely returning home and often ignoring them on key issues ranging from expanding Medicare prescription-drug benefits to TARP bank bailouts. The frustration boiled over at a May party meeting in his district, where Cantor was booed and his ally was ousted from his post as local party chair by a tea-party insurgent. 'He did one thing in Washington and then tried to confuse us as to what he did when he came back to his district,' one Republican primary voter told me.”

According to the Washington Post, Cantor was jeered by many at a recent “major event” for the state GOP. Most of the analysis has also concluded that Cantor was unable to posture himself as truly against amnesty for illegal immigrants, one of the key platforms for Brat’s campaign.

I don’t believe Cantor’s loss necessarily signals the self-destruction of the GOP.  From all appearances, Republican voters in District 7 saw Cantor as an aloof, Washington-oriented talking head. If that is correct, the Tea Party had simply been preaching to the choir.

 

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center