An earthquake for US politics: Tea Party topples top Republican in Virginia primary

The GOP is reeling after Eric Cantor lost to an unknown candidate, becoming the first Majority Leader to lose a primary race since 1889

US Editor

A flabbergasted Republican Party is scrambling to pick up the pieces after its second-in-command in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, suffered one of the most remarkable electoral defeats in recent memory, falling to an unknown Tea Party rival on primary night in his district in Virginia.

Mr Cantor, who was beaten by a college economics professor called David Brat, is now denied a spot on the ballot in November’s midterm congressional election. His defeat will reverberate far beyond the district itself, reigniting the warfare between the party’s establishment and far-right factions and making it nigh on impossible for the House to pass meaningful legislation for the foreseeable future.

Mr Cantor, who had widely been seen as the heir-apparent to John Boehner when he steps down as House Speaker, perhaps early next year, was by most reckonings a staunch conservative himself, leading, for instance, numerous efforts to repeal universal healthcare. But he was expelled by voters who thought him insufficiently conservative. That spells a grass-roots demand for the party to lurch even further to the right.

Mr Cantor was expected to confirm he will step down from the position of Majority Leader at the end of July, kicking off what is likely to be a messy and distracting race to succeed him. An almost certain victim of this single result will be the prospect of passing immigration reform soon. Mr Brat waged a single-issue campaign, focusing relentlessly on what he claimed was Mr Cantor’s support for a reform package that would give the millions of illegal immigrants in the US a path to eventual citizenship. Critics, including Mr Brat and all Tea Party candidates, call this an “amnesty”.

Dave Brat speaks to hundreds of supporters following his victory in Virginia (AP) Dave Brat speaks to hundreds of supporters following his victory in Virginia (AP)
Almost no expression of hyperbole in connection to Mr Cantor’s downfall seemed out of place. He was the first Majority Leader to lose a primary race since 1889. And the shock was all the more profound because no one, it seemed, had the slightest inkling that he might be beaten. He was not even in his district on Tuesday, when voting took place. Instead he was at a fund-raising pep-talk in a Washington Starbucks.

Some kind of poll malpractice might even have occurred; not a single survey hinted at trouble for Mr Cantor, who ended up losing by an 11-point margin. He had outspent Mr Brat by about 26 to one. According to campaign finance filings, he had invested $5m while Mr Brat had spent $122,000. But as the triumphant victor told his supporters: “Dollars don’t vote – you do.”

Just to add sauce to the tale of unequal war chests, the same filings reveal that the Cantor campaign spent $168,637 on meals in two different steakhouses in the district –in other words, more than the entire amount the professor had at his disposal to win.

“This is one of the most stunning upsets in modern American political history,” Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is the base rebelling against the GOP leadership in Washington as represented by Eric Cantor.” He added: “I’m as stunned as anybody.”

Upended has been the main narrative of the primary season so far, the success of the establishment wing in seeing off challenges to moderates by Tea Party extremists. These, they fear, will jeopardise the party’s prospects in November of expanding control of the House and taking over the Senate. Instead, the Tea Party is delirious that its candidates in the many primaries still to come will get a boost.

The turmoil for the Republicans gave Democrats glee. “Eric Cantor has long been the face of House Republicans’ extreme policies, debilitating dysfunction and manufactured crises. Tonight is a major victory for the Tea Party as they yet again pull the Republican Party further to the radical right,” said Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader. “As far as the midterm elections are concerned, it’s a whole new ball game.”

Immigration reform supporters celebrate the result (AP) Immigration reform supporters celebrate the result (AP)
Paralysis now seems certain in the House because a resurgent Tea Party will make almost any Republican not in its good graces afraid to vote for just about anything, in case it hurts them in their primary races. It is likely, meanwhile, that momentum towards immigration reform will be halted even beyond this November and perhaps for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s second term.

That could cast a chill over those who would like Jeb Bush, the former Governor of Florida, to pitch his hat into the ring for the party’s nomination in 2016. He appeals to many in the party because he has shared their concerns that unless they can win over the fast-growing Hispanic population with ideas for immigration reform the Republicans will again be unable to regain the White House.

Congress may also seize up if the Tea Party standard bearers already there are now re-emboldened to block legislation. “Thank God there’s no debt ceiling vote coming up. Thank God there’s no opportunity to shut the government down over the next several months,” said Representative Peter King, a veteran Republican congressman from New York.

In November, Mr Brat will face another professor from the same college, the Democrat Jack Trammel. He is almost certain to be elected to Congress because the district leans heavily Republican. “This is a miracle from God,” Mr Brat told supporters when the last results came in.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes