In a true shocker, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the number-two-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives who many believed would be the next Speaker of the House, was defeated in the Republican primary yesterday by relatively unknown Tea-Party candidate Dave Brat. Even though Cantor outspent Brat 10 to 1, Brat won in a blowout, 56% to 44%. Nobody saw this coming.
Cantor’s upset loss will certainly make every Republican who is up for re-election re-think his or her positions on the issues, but it’s unclear what, exactly, this means for the health reform debate.
Brat’s campaign focused on the country’s economic problems, religious liberty, and Cantor’s support for immigration reform. He also attacked Cantor on his position on health reform, though many would say he practiced revisionist history on that topic, saying Cantor didn’t do enough.
Cantor was one of the most outspoken opponents of health reform legislation, charged with ensuring that Republicans stood unanimous in their opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act when the vote was cast back in 2010. He also led the unsuccessful effort (and multiple votes in the House) to have the law repealed.
While health reform was certainly an issue in the stunning defeat, it definitely wasn’t the main issue. And if it wasn’t the main issue, then perhaps that should serve as a wake-up call for Republicans who continue to focus so intently on the repeal efforts. That doesn’t mean that those who voted for Brat and against Cantor support the legislation or that they don’t want to see the law repealed, but it may mean that a candidate who continues to fight a losing battle may leave himself vulnerable to attack on other issues.
In the never-ending soap opera that is Washington D.C., it’ll be interesting to see how this most recent twist impacts everyone’s strategy. Stay tuned…