Eric Cantor’s Surprise Defeat Means Virtually Nothing

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.

Brian Beutler emerged from his cave to get some lunch after 48 hours of covering Cantormania and discovered that….the rest of the world doesn’t care:

When I arrived, the people in line were as bored and diet-conscious as they always are. Most of them were looking down into their smartphones. A few chatted with colleagues or fellow tourists about trivia like the weather (it was hot). Nobody seemed to realize that something extraordinary had just happened.

The profound contrast to the humming worlds of political Twitter, the U.S. Capitol, K Street, and Web Traffic™ now strikes me as incredibly apt symbolism. Three days later, Cantor’s defeat still the biggest story in American electoral politics. But its legacy is shaping up to be a lot more humdrum than the buzz and and excitement surrounding it imply.

I’d go even further. Cantor’s loss was a shock because no one predicted it. And of course, Cantor was a big wheel. But all the talk about the rise of right-wing populism or a civil war with the GOP or the victory of the tea party is just nonsense. It’s just flatly not there.

Look. Cantor fucked up and something weird happened in Virginia’s 7th district. But guess what? There have been lots of other primaries too this year. In some of them a tea-party conservative has won. In most of them, the incumbent won. When you look at the broad picture, you can’t pretend that Cantor’s loss overwhelms everything else. It doesn’t. It’s one primary, and it counts as one primary. And that means the broad picture is about the same as everyone thought a week ago: the Republican Party is becoming more conservative; the tea party largely controls the party’s agenda in Congress; and occasionally there are going to be some primary upsets. As near as I can tell, there haven’t been any more this year than in 2010 or 2012.

So don’t let the shock of Cantor’s defeat get to you. It’s shocking mainly because all the pollsters got it wrong. But the fact that some pollsters screwed up means that….some pollsters screwed up. It doesn’t mean there’s an upheaval in the GOP that’s changed the face of American politics. That upheaval is four years old, and we already know all about it.

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.