Queen’s 1970s song “Another One Bites the Dust” keeps replaying in my mind as I see and read the news reports of Eric Cantor’s surprising primary loss in Virginia’s seventh Congressional District to Tea Party candidate David Brat.
Not only was Eric Cantor the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, but also, most political junkies believed he had the conservative credentials, a 95.07 American Conservative Union lifetime rating, to inoculate him from a Tea Party challenge. And then the voters spoke and they spoke in big numbers: Eric Cantor lost by a margin of 56-44 percent.
Now we need to examine why he lost and what the political implications are of his loss. The issue that contributed the most to his defeat was the fact that he his constituents viewed him as out of touch. The voters believed he was too busy feathering his nest in Washington and preparing to be the next Speaker of the House and consequently, not paying attention to them. If he had spent more time with his constituents and less time trying to raise money in Washington he could have better understood what they wanted. Immigration, a reason often cited for his defeat, is simply a symptom of him not staying in touch with his voters.
The political implications of Mr. Cantor’s primary loss are that immigration reform is likely dead for this year. Why would any Republican work to advance an issue that is so closely tied to Mr. Cantor’s defeat? To a lesser extent it sends a cautionary message to Republicans about reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats.
In the end, all politics is local. Mr. Cantor was viewed as out of touch by the voters. If he had spent more time back home talking to his voters, he would have known how his constituents felt about immigration. Tea Party candidates also knocked of Senator Robert Bennett in a Utah primary about four years ago for similar reasons – he was viewed as being out of touch. Now Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi is in the fight for his political life in a run-off election with a Tea Party candidate for similar reasons – he is viewed as out of touch.
The bottom line is that politicians who spend more time with the voters are more in tune with what the voters want and are better able to calculate when it is appropriate to reach a compromise and cut a deal. Staying in touch with the people is the number one rule of politics and those who don’t follow this rule pay the price with the voters.
See, democracy works.
Before joining CNP (formerly WHD Government Affairs), Steve served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Senate Affairs. He was the key liaison between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Senate, assuring that the Senate was informed of the DOD’s plans, programs and goals.