Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 8, 2016

Stunner: Cantor Upset Changes Everything

Cantor appeared at a leadership press conference Tuesday, hours before losing his primary. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Cantor appeared at a leadership press conference Tuesday, hours before losing his primary. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in a Republican primary Tuesday, conceding his Virginia seat to a local activist after a stunning loss with possibly dramatic consequences for leadership, the chances of any immigration overhaul passing Congress and the future of his party.

He is the first majority leader ever to fall in primary defeat — the position was created in 1899.

Cantor, toppled by college economics professor Dave Brat, 56 percent to 44 percent, conceded just after The Associated Press declared the race over.

Democratic and Republican leadership aides expressed total disbelief and dumbfoundedness Tuesday night. Political operatives in the Old Dominion and organizers in Washington quickly studied election law to see if he could run as a write-in.

With his wife, Diana Fine Cantor, at his side, Cantor choked back emotion and did not sound like a man aiming to stage a comeback.

“I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight. It’s disappointing sure, but I believe in this country, I believe there’s opportunity around the next corner for all of us,” he said.

Cantor has been a contentious figure within the GOP, never more so than early in the speakership of John A. Boehner, when speculation abounded about his background attempts to overthrow the Ohio Republican.

But that talk had been tamped down in recent years and the two leaders worked in tandem. In many ways, Cantor had been the intellectual leader of the House Republicans, preferring a hands-on approach to Boehner’s famously laissez-faire demeanor.

Cantor is known inside the conference as the leader most interested in projecting a kinder, gentler, approach for the party, not only on immigration but also at the margins of social policy.

The majority leader reflected that in his concession speech, in which he talked about his interest in helping society’s most vulnerable.

Cantor rose to prominence along with Kevin McCarthy of California and Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, as the triumvirate of “Young Guns” who would engineer the most recent conservative revolution. They recruited the very style of candidates who have been rattling establishment figures since the tea party wave began in 2010, making the defeat all the more astonishing because it came at the very hand of the movement he helped create.

He also is viewed as someone willing to confront President Barack Obama at every turn, a strategy that defined the House GOP from almost the moment Obama took office. Cantor took the lead early in 2009 to offer suggestions for the economic stimulus package, but was flatly rejected by the president, who bluntly told Republicans he planned to ignore them because elections have consequences.

During his concession speech, Cantor lauded his own efforts on charter schools and a medical research act named for a girl in his district who died last year.

He said it had been the pleasure of his life to be majority leader.

“We need to focus our efforts as conservatives, as Republicans, on putting forth our conservative solutions so that they can help solve the problems for so many working middle-class families that may not have the opportunity that we have,” he said. “We can also put our solutions to work for the most vulnerable.”

Earlier in the day, Cantor took part in a news conference touting legislation to address the Veterans Affairs scandal, not letting on any sign of worry about the impending loss.

Neither Cantor nor his aides seemed have any idea he was in political danger throughout the day Tuesday. GOP aides reached by phone were stunned by the news of Cantor’s defeat, likening it to the surprise resignation of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in 1998, followed shortly by the perhaps even more surprising resignation of his would-be successor, then-Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., after admitting to an affair.

In 2004, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle lost his South Dakota Senate seat. The only recent upset in a nomination fight that’s remotely analogous was in 2010, when Robert F. Bennett, then No. 5 in the Senate Republican leadership, was kicked off the general election ballot in Utah thanks to the early tea party insurgency of Mike Lee.

Before that, the most prominent member to be denied renomination was in 1972, when House Judiciary Chairman Emanuel Celler lost his primary bid for a 26th term in New York to Elizabeth Holtzman. He was the longest serving member who’s ever been defeated.

Much of the current conference’s policy direction, from the emphasis on cutting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds to later attempts to add money to pediatric research coffers, had come directly from Cantor’s office. Over the past year, Cantor had attempted to transition that influence to a legislative re-branding of the Republican Party, emphasizing policy that could attract voting constituencies generally unlikely to vote GOP. But he was met with resistance from his rank-and-file members at almost every turn, and was unable to transition the message into reality.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican not shy about criticizing leadership, told CQ Roll Call the results prove the existence of a strengthened conservative movement. “Eric Cantor is gone because the tea party is not dead,” he said.

Huelskamp also said the Brat victory “weakens” Boehner and predicted others would step forward right away.

No doubt the leadership structure, including Boehner’s security as speaker and Cantor’s deputies inside the party, is now very much in question. Ambitious Republicans eager to reshape the conference will see this as an opening, and possibly an indicator of where policy should be directed.

There were differing takes on the future of any immigration overhaul.

Most took it as a warning sign for immigration advocates, given that was a focus of Brat’s campaign.

“Eric Cantor has been the No. 1 cheerleader in Congress for amnesty,” Brat told half a dozen reporters on May 28, adding that “no Republican in this country is more liberal on immigration.”

The White House and immigration advocates such as Frank Sharry of America’s Voice said the opposite, calling Cantor an immovable obstacle to any legislation moving forward.

A knowledgeable Republican consultant in Virginia told CQ Roll Call that no one saw this coming.

“The worst case scenario that they were contemplating was, ‘OK this is the end of the campaign for speaker.’ None of them contemplated a loss,” the consultant said. “They were pleased with their level of turnout they were seeing throughout the course of the day, because the models that they had indicated a higher turnout was going to be better for them. They completely missed it.”

Virginia Democrats, many who were gathered to celebrate the life of the late longtime campaign strategist Mame Reiley just hours before polls closed, were shocked and unprepared for the loss. They found it a cause for celebration.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York boasted in a statement that the defeat will force the GOP to run “further to the far right with the Tea Party striking fear into the heart of every Republican on the ballot and cementing the dysfunction that has paralyzed this Congress and prevented them from taking any action to help middle class families.” He did not mention the 7th District candidate Jack Trammell, a professor at the same school where Brat heads the Economics department.

In a statement two hours after Cantor conceded, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared the next five months an open season: “As far as the midterms elections are concerned, it’s a whole new ballgame.”

Jay Hunter, Kyle Trygstad, Emma Dumain, Emily Cahn, Alexis Levinson, Shira T. Center and Jason Dick contributed to this report.


Related stories:

Eric Cantor Loses Primary in Massive Upset (Video)

Republican Senate Primary Challengers Jump on Eric Cantor Loss

Boehner Statement on Cantor’s Defeat

Eric Cantor’s Defeat Was in the Immigration Tea Leaves

On Immigration, the Pressure Mounts for Eric Cantor

10 Republicans Who Could Be Speaker

Cantor’s Pediatric Research Bill Could Have Been a Bust

Eric Cantor: A Brief Biography

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    Stop the false narrative: NOTHING about Cantor is was or will ever be intelligent or intellectual.

    • erick

      Did Cantor have erectile dysfunction like John Boehner has?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Is he a troll like you are?

        • JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group

          Pishious T. Toshious

  • 12jc

    One down and 434 to go. Then we can start over with a real government that represents the people who elected them, be it Rep. or Dem. and not just a bunch of phonies who only represent themselves.

    • Kimo

      Yes, we need to turn out the whole corrupt bunch, and then have their replacements impeach and remove the Obama administration. Today was the first step.

      • Jack Everett

        lol another anti American sneaks in the back door.

        • murica-is-f’d

          Not bad, Joy..not bad..

          • Jack Everett

            Something you could never claim tea scum.

  • Jazzy

    Cantor, RENEWUI tweeted you, called your office for your support. And you turned your back on us. Now you have 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits. I hope you have to sell your kids stuff to get out of the hole you created, just like the Kindle Fire I had to sell tonight to get money for food for my 13 year old, I have been out of EUC since your party denied benefits to 3 million over the past 5 months.

    GOP, libs, dems, let the record show that your own party wont waste time voting for you when you cannot meet the simple requests of your community.

    Obama, renewui with retro this week. The EUC scandal is bubbling, and if you don’t put some salt in the pot its going to overflow. Or, whatever it is that’s in your pot, put it down for minute and do some work for the Americans suffering from GOP.

    • Jack Everett

      No way these pigs are all stashing money in foreign banks.

  • F.R. Newbrough

    The people won. Big money lost. The political class lost. The power class lost. BIG Media lost. Cantor wasn’t necessarily a bad guy even though he lost his way he was a proxy target for the tin ear of Washington DC. It isn’t that people don’t support immigration reform its that they don’t support open borders and amnesty and bringing in foreign workers to fill jobs Americans could be apprenticed into and trained to do. The tech sector has a growing need for resources but instead of growing locally they hire offshore or hire and often train individuals on work visas. The idea that they need these workers to do jobs Americans can’t or wont do is baloney. They just don’t want to pay to educate and grow citizen resources also the horrid policies of the federal government has made it prohibitive to hire America workers which is the biggest travesty bar none. The lower classes whether they be white, black, etc are all disadvantaged by corporatists more than any other group. They get the hope of a government check in the place of a real American Dream and I don’t blame them for their anger and bitterness.

    What we witnessed tonight was a dose of popular sovereignty and a people no longer easily manipulated with sound bites and ads and the Democrats may rejoice now but come November they are going to be missing the likes of Eric Cantor.

  • Kimo

    Read our lips. No amnesty for illegals.

    • Jack Everett

      Read my lips, it’s wing nuts that want it.

    • Frederick Cross

      Yes yes continue to hate and watch your brown brothers come to the waiting arms of the democratic party.

      • Layla

        Legal brown brothers are bailing out of the Democrat party in great numbers and so are blacks. Both have been hit hard by the economic policies of this administration.

        • Frederick Cross

          That is way Romney got only 27% of the Hispanic community in the last election when Bush in 2004 got 45%. Yes continue to dream your delusional dreams and spout your anti immigration diatribe so the Latino community can hear it loud and long. The GOP is just hurting itself by its actions by alienating this growing demographic. Just as a democratic president alienated southern whites by passing civil rights laws in the 60’s, the present day GOP will alienate the Hispanic community that will see it vote 80-90% for democratic candidate for both the white house and other lesser position in the government.

  • Frederick Cross

    Yes tea party piss off the Latino community with your rants of no amnesty for illegals. Yes and they will come in droves to the democratic party. Reminds me when LBJ signed Civil Rights laws in the 60’s knowing it would alienate the southern whites to vote for the GOP when they came a calling. Every presidential election, the Republican party loses 2% of its base. America is becoming more browner and it does not help the GOP that they are burning their bridges with the Hispanic community. Continue to do what your do best………hate.

    • JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group

      You should have taken the tour of Canada during Vietnam, like you didn’t :-)

      • Frederick Cross

        Wow you really are way out there son. So now you are disparaging my service for your deranged out look on the world? Son take a deep breath and seek help, you need it desperately.

        • Layla

          Maybe you can go together?

    • Layla

      It looks to me like you are the one spewing hate here, Frederick. This is OUR country. And it is time that the Americans who are losing homes, jobs are heard from. And they will be, loud and clear.

      If you come to this country, come legally and be prepared to work hard.

      • Frederick Cross

        Well since it takes sometimes as long as 23 years for someone to come here ” legally” Its the right that refuses to take care of the backlog in our legal immigration system. Its a wonder not more come slipping across the border. By the way 40% of those illegals you rant about are people who overstayed their visa. Why this whole argument is about the fear of whites of a brown horde coming to take their jobs. Seems to me your in fear of hardworking people coming to show you up. Been here in California all my life and have lived with Hispanics and seen they are hard working people. They seem to work harder than your typical lazy GOP worker.

        • Layla

          I’m not ranting, I’m just not agreeing with your statement. If the NSA can track your phone calls, don’t tell me the government cannot improve their system. Illegal immigration is an insult to all those who came here legally, MOST OF ALL HISPANICS.

          • Frederick Cross

            Well those legals in the 19th and the early part of the 20th century did not have a quote system that we have today. We only allow 1.1 million immigrants into the country and it has not been upgraded in decades. But the right keeps us from relieving the backlog and have been doing it again for decades.

  • Frederick Cross

    Virginia lost tonight. He might of been a lousy campaigner, at least he brought home the bacon to his district,

    • Jack Everett

      You will just have to deal with the fact you can’t live on welfare forever.

      • Frederick Cross

        Number one sparky I am a Vietnam vet who has never taken a dime of government benefits outside of the time I was in the army back between 1968-71. Whats with you right wing knuckle draggers anyway?? All I need is some right wing chickenhawk to mouth off to me.

        • JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group

          Viet Vet,so was Kerry….your point?

          • dw1206

            Nice way to insult an American hero.

          • Layla

            Insults are becoming a way of life in this country. I think we can do better than that, both sides.

          • Frederick Cross

            So you paint all Vietnam vets the same. My god if your an example of the existing GOP party or some delusional Tea Party type we are in trouble in this nation.

        • murica-is-f’d

          ever been to a VA?? Millions of vets do accept government benefits. Your experience is simply subjective…i.e..irrelevant. there is no meaning to your words…one persons “govt benefit” is another’s subsidy…you have receive millions of dollars in govt benefits via govt subsidies…get over yourself…

          • dw1206

            Not all Vets use the VA. However, you want the Military protection but don’t want to take care of our Vets who put their lives on the line for you? Ingrate.

          • mrmano_0

            You comment is off topic…your factless ideology is showing..his experience is subjective and irrelevant.

          • Layla

            His comment is NOT off topic. He was expressing an opinion, liberal.

          • Frederick Cross

            Number one I was in the army for only 3 years and don’t have a service related injury or sickness so I don’t qualify for VA benefits. One exception to that rule is if your below a certain income you are mean tested to see if you can get into the VA health care system. Makes to much money and besides that under my existing health care delivery system I have to be on it for my wife and daughter to continue being covered. So yes I have not taken a dime from the federal government outside of getting maybe VA home loan and even then I had to pay a fee to take advantage of that program.

          • mrmano_0

            again…it is subjective and irrelevant

          • Layla

            You earned it and more than that.

          • Layla

            This is an unfair statement. Many of these men, women have injuries that cannot be treated anywhere else. Medical care for our veterans will never be considered to be a “subsidy”, liberal.

        • Layla

          With the words you use, Frederick, the identity of the knuckle dragger is suspicious. You are not very bright if you blame this on one party. Thank you for your service.

      • Layla

        You also can’t get by as an administration, Congress bailing out Wall Street, the banks and every other special interest organization at the expense of the American people. That’s going to end soon, for both parties.

    • JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group

      No..the liberals and conquistadors lost tonight

      • Frederick Cross

        Oh yes they lost short term. I am old enough to look at things long term and yes the GOP will not help itself if it continues displaying this mindset. The demographics in America are changing and if the Republican party does not adjust to the circumstances, they will no longer be a viable party in the future.

        • cocerned

          Yes. .. . VOTE THEM OUT

        • Layla

          If you are referring to amnesty, Frederick, LEGAL American immigrants deeply resent the political pandering going on in America over this issue. Blacks resent it deeply as well. BOTH SIDES are offending their base. Both sides will lose seats.

    • Layla

      At what expense to the rest of America, Frederick?

    • dw1206

      No, he brought home the bacon to his contributors and Republican Campaign coffers. GOP has not helped people at home….Veterans benefits, VA funding, Embassy Security funding, extended unemployment, Medicaid Expansion for low wage workers, equal pay for women, clean environment, etc. Anyone who says Cantor and his cronies have helped Virginians is wrong.

  • JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group

    Your gushing portrayal of establishment Cantor and pushing the idea as a write in candidate, only belies your Democratic party leanings OR your keep the establishment in Washington approach. Brat will turn this House into impeachment headquarters along with those like him. Obama is a lawless failure and must GO !!! Cantor straddled the Republicrat fence too long and sooner or later the GOP and Dem/Lib/Communists will wake up. There is a whole country of all colors and persuasions just waiting for these liberal Repubs. AND Dems. to be voted OUT !! Next stop …the Senate,IMPEACHMENT of Obama !!

    • cocerned

      GET OVER IT!!!!

  • Andre Leonard

    Good to see the voters of Virginia sack Cantor. Save for being Isreal’s AIPAC leader in Congress, Cantor did nothing for America.

  • Layla

    This was cause for celebration for both sides of the aisle. We are going to elect a new Congress, reign in this rogue President, and give America back to it’s people, NOT the illegal immigrants.

  • Christopher Calloway Brooks

    There’s a reason. as the ONLY Jewish Republican in either house of Congress?!?! If Jews were proportionately represented by the GOP, there would be about 8 Jewish GOP representatives in Congress. Yet: now there are NONE!! And we’re supposed to believe that this is “just some accident of fate?” It’s no accident. OK fine. So then, what, exactly, is your explanation for the simple fact of precisely ZERO Jewish GOP representation in the Congress of the United States?

  • cocerned

    Republicans , VOTE THEM OUT
    (V.T.O) ….. :-)

    • Layla

      Vote BOTH SIDES OUT.

      • cocerned

        Good luck on that one Hun

  • Al Amo

    While to some the word liberty means that we are free to do as we please with ourselves and the fruits of our labor, to others it implies the power to coerce in the name of “fairness” and plunder in the name of “equality”.

  • Raz Matazz

    Even with civilization’s advance, we have retained the instinct of mass action that typically results from the effects of crowd psychology.

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