House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has lost Virginia’s Republican primary in one of the most stunning upsets in congressional history. Cantor fell to tea party challenger David Brat, whose campaign accused Cantor of being insufficiently right-wing. Cantor’s defeat could upend Republican politics while further endangering the prospects for immigration reform. Brat ran on a staunch anti-immigrant platform, citing Cantor’s mild support for a version of the DREAM Act. The House’s second most powerful Republican, Cantor had been the presumed next in line to replace Speaker John Boehner. Cantor’s campaign raised $5.4 million to Brat’s $200,000. It’s the first time a House majority leader has lost a primary since the position was created in 1899. Although his opponent painted him as a moderate, Cantor has played a key role in the Republican effort to thwart President Obama’s agenda, from healthcare reform to last year’s government shutdown. We are joined by John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Get our free emails
NERMEEN SHAIKH: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has lost Virginia’s Republican primary in one of the most stunning upsets in congressional history. Cantor fell to tea party challenger David Brat, whose campaign accused Cantor of being insufficiently right-wing. The House’s second-most powerful Republican, Cantor had been the presumed next in line to replace Speaker John Boehner. Cantor’s campaign raised $5.4 million to Brat’s $200,000. It’s the first time a House majority leader has lost a primary since the position was created in 1899.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric Cantor’s defeat could upend Republican politics while further endangering the prospects for immigration reform. Brat ran on a staunch anti-immigrant platform, citing Cantor’s mild support for a version of the DREAM Act. Although his opponent painted him as a moderate, Cantor has played a key role in the Republican effort to thwart President Obama’s agenda, from healthcare reform to last year’s government shutdown.
For more, we’re joined by John Nichols, the Washington correspondent for The Nation, his latest article headlined “Eric Cantor Loses to a Conservative Who Rips Crony Capitalism.” John is joining us by Democracy Now! video stream from Madison, Wisconsin.
Hi, John. Welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of this historic defeat.
JOHN NICHOLS: You can’t overestimate it. This is a remarkable result. The office of majority leader was officially established in 1899. No majority leader has lost in the last 55 election cycles. This is the first one. And Cantor lost for a reason. This race will be badly covered by a lot of the media; it will be simplified. He lost because of a number of factors. One, it was a very low-turnout election. Two, he has been very focused on national issues, not focused at home. But, three—and this is important—his opponent, who is exceptionally conservative, very right-wing on all the issues, crafted a message that was, as you’ve suggested, anti-immigration reform, anti-deficits, very, very critical of spending—all the things we usually hear—but also very, very critical of Wall Street. In fact, his opponent came back again and again to the theme that what was wrong with Eric Cantor is that Eric Cantor took a lot of money from Wall Street and then did the bidding of Wall Street rather than Main Street.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about who this new candidate, the Republican candidate, a economics professor, Brat, is.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, he’s a very interesting character. He is a longtime economics professor, pretty well regarded at the small university where he teaches. He has had some ties to libertarians. He clearly has read Ayn Rand. He claims he is not a Randian. He fits a lot of the models that you might associate with a Ron Paul or a Rand Paul conservative, which is to say that he’s not a simplistic tea party candidate. This is a guy who has for a long time been very, very involved in the complex debates about what the Republican Party ought to be.
And my sense is that if Democrats take any message away from this major upset, it shouldn’t be to abandon immigration reform. The fact of the matter is, the overwhelming majority of Americans in polling support humane immigration reform. And in a low-turnout Republican primary, you’re not getting a good measure on that.
AMY GOODMAN: David—
JOHN NICHOLS: But what you are—what you are getting a good measure on, and an important one, is that a strong critique of Wall Street, one that really ties policymaking to Wall Street money, has a lot of traction.
AMY GOODMAN: David Brat’s comment: “I am running against Cantor because he does not represent the citizens of the 7th District, but rather large corporations seeking insider deals, crony bailouts and a constant supply of low-wage workers.” John Nichols?
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, it’s quite—yeah, it’s quite a remarkable statement. And that is not an isolated statement. Amazingly enough, this guy was described during the course of the campaign as primarily running against Cantor on a critique of Wall Street and big business. Now, toward the end, there is no question—and we should not underestimate—his supporters adopted these immigration issues, and it was very ugly. There’s no—there’s no defending the stances that they took or where they went. But it is important to understand that there was a lot going on here, and a lot of the critique of Cantor went to issues that have not been talked about much nationally.
For instance, in David Brat’s last big message in the district, he went very deep in criticizing Cantor on financial services reform, on congressional reform, suggesting—and I think appropriately—that Cantor had bent over backwards to try and make sure that members of Congress would not be too harshly penalized if they turned around and became lobbyists or got involved with Wall Street. So, there’s a lot going on here.
Again, I really want to emphasize, immigration reform was a part of this race, but if Democrats take that away, if they think that, you know, people have turned against immigration reform, I think they’re misreading a much deeper critique of where the Republican Party has gone as regards Wall Street.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds. We’re going to talk about immigration reform later in the broadcast. But the issue of money, this also flew in the face of everything we see. Some say 12 to one that Cantor outspent him, 20 to one, perhaps even 25 to one. Cantor outspent this little-known, obscure tea party candidate. He spent something like—Dave Brat spent $200,000?
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, probably—maybe even less than that. And there was very little outside spending on David Brat’s behalf. So, this was really a grassroots campaign. But, let me emphasize, David Brat is a college professor, very savvy as regards social media, very savvy as regards Facebook, websites, and so we’re really seeing one element of modern campaigning coming in here, that in a very, very low-turnout primary, if you can activate a base that is highly engaged through social media, websites, Twitter or Facebook, you can—you can get a lot of traction.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, John Nichols, for being with us. Again, we’re going to talk more about immigration reform later in the broadcast. John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation, joining us from Madison, Wisconsin. His article that we’ll link to in The Nation, “Eric Cantor Loses to a Conservative Who Rips Crony Capitalism.”
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the great debate on Human Rights Watch. Stay with us.