So Majority Leader Eric Cantor has lost to a Tea Party candidate. Correction, Majority Leader Eric Cantor was crushed by a Tea Party candidate.
In some ways, Cantor’s exit is a political tragedy. It shows that flirting with the existential enemies of the Constitution, of liberty, and of core Republican principles can bear a very heavy price. I’m convinced that had Cantor resisted the siren calls of the left on two key issues — immigration and giving Eric Holder renewed power over state elections — he would have won tonight.
The moral of the story tonight is that when a Republican flirts with the left, that Republican risks it all. This isn’t 1995 anymore. Party insiders are less equipped to drive a narrative than they used to be. Now, talk radio, conservative media and grassroots organizing can drive an outcome better than a party apparatus. Big Money doesn’t produce the big results it used to. Insurgents, in the right battlespace, can beat the most powerful incumbents if they battle smart.
Back to the two issues that undermined Cantor — immigration and reempowering Eric Holder to control state elections.
Immigration was by far the more dominant of the two issues in the Cantor loss. Others have covered it better than I will here. But something odd happened over the weekend.
First, I, along with other conservative leaders like former Attorney General Ed Meese and Ken Blackwell, sent Mr. Cantor a letter. The letter addressed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wi) that would reverse a Supreme Court decision and give Eric Holder renewed powers over state elections, including the power to block photo voter ID and citizenship verification procedures. It was a power wickedly abused by the Holder Justice Department (where I used to work) and is regularly used to help Democrats in the name of civil rights. The bill sponsored by Rep. Sensenbrenner explicitly removes white voters from the protection of the law and unleashes all sorts of other mischief and federal mandates on state election officials. The letter to Mr. Cantor stated:
This bill will fundamentally and intentionally change American elections into race-reliant battleﬁelds where, for the ﬁrst time in our history, the United States, as a legal matter, would EXCLUDE a majority of Americans as a class from the full protection of the law – based solely on the color of their skin. As House Majority Leader you alone have the authority to bring this bill to a vote. Therefore, your continued ambiguity on a bill that is so clearly and deeply ﬂawed is troubling to say the least. On behalf of our organizations, and of the millions we collectively represent, we are compelled to reach out to you directly and ask for a meeting to address the issue and your intentions.
There it is. The election in Virginia tonight can be explained by two words: continued ambiguity. The continued ambiguity undermined Cantor’s brand as a fighter for limited government. Cantor went to Selma, Alabama, and marched with some of the most bitter racialists in American politics. It was all part of an effort to cozy up with the NAACP and ethic interest group crowd. Instead of snuffing out the effort to give Eric Holder more power over state elections, the majority leader may have tried to build a bridge with the left.
Now, other Republicans who might have flirted with the idea of moving a bill to give Eric Holder renewed power over state elections can gaze at Cantor’s wipeout. Who would dare to now? Republicans who want to become speaker in the future best not offend delegations from Texas, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina.
The Tea Party means business. They think the country is worth fighting for. They aren’t beyond mailing every single donor to every single GOP congressman who would support Sensenbrenner’s bill. The Tea Party is perfectly willing to send every single donor to every single sponsor of Sensenbrenner’s bill a do-it-yourself ask-for-your-money-back kit. This isn’t 1995, and the folks who just beat Cantor are willing to do what it takes to win other battles.
Which brings up a second odd event this weekend. One Tea Party group sought to purchase a full-page advertisement in the Richmond Times asking Rep. Cantor to come out against the Sensenbrenner bill. The group had cash on the barrel, lots of it. At least $40,000. The ad was the mirror image of an advertisement run by left-wing race groups in the Richmond Times the week before asking Rep. Cantor to support Sensenbrenner’s bill.
Here is the advertisement Richmond Times readers never got to see.
The Richmond Times wouldn’t run the advertisement from the Tea Party groups, even though it ran the advertisement from the leftist race groups.
Eric Cantor’s wife sits on the board of the Richmond Times. Did that mean that the Times was willing to take money from left-wing groups directed at her husband but not willing to take money from Tea Party groups asking her husband to oppose legislation that would harm Virginia?
We’ll never know. What we do know is that the Tea Party — including the very active wing that opposes giving Eric Holder more power — brought down a majority leader. Had the majority leader stood fast against the sirens on the left, I suspect he’d have been the majority leader in 2015, if not the speaker of the House.