Eric Cantor losing to unknown professor David Brat by an 11-point margin is a big deal for a lot of reasons. The reason it’s important for our purposes specifically is because an unknown challenger taking down an incumbent (not to mention the House Majority Leader) is certainly no easy feat — and it would serve us well as progressive primary-advocates to know what happened in VA-07.
Most of the “why Cantor lost” articles have some merit (except for the ones attributing Cantor’s loss to Democratic-crossover), as immigration was a factor, for instance — but that simply cannot swing an election in a 45-point gross difference than what Eric Cantor’s [horrible] pollster predicted. That’s the main problem with these articles. Even ones that aggregate two or three reasons for the lost are putting an exceptional amount of weight on each of them to change an election so dramatically.
There are some notable good articles about the loss though also, mainly from the Monkey Cage and Daily Kos Elections — and while I still would never let it account for such an incredible upset, this paragraph from David Jarman is a great summary:
“Hubris” may be the key word here. The climb through the ranks through treachery and intimidation, and then the sudden realization when you’re at the top that you’ve burned through all your allies, is almost allegorical. It’s a pattern we’ve seen many times before, whether it’s from the Greek playwrights or Shakespeare, or in the collapse of some of history’s nastiest regimes: When the leader who appeared to rule effortlessly suddenly falls with a lot of knives in his back, few people are saddened, while many people are surprised at just how thin and flimsy his support actually was, and how he was just staying in power propped up by a combination of fear and entropy.
Something we should all be waiting for is some form of proof that the Brat campaign did something exceptional — which is absolutely not something we’ve seen thus far; they all seemed as surprised as everyone else.
Pundits and commenters are somewhat understandably taking this time to shout that “money isn’t everything” — which is certainly true, but it’s also certainly a lot in today’s political system. And even if you wanted to attribute Brat’s victory to some stellar grassroots organizing (which we have seen no proof of), you can’t run an effective ground-game without money either. Certainly not only $200,000 total. There’s not enough money for effective targeting or even staff to handle the volunteer capacity.
From what we’ve seen, nothing thus far has justified the loss that Eric Cantor ensued on Tuesday night. The closest reason that makes the most sense is exemplified by the fact that on election day, Mr. Cantor was at a Starbucks with lobbyists in D.C. — not even in his home district. Things like that will hurt you. It’s hard to see that they hurt you this much, particularly when you’re the House Majority Leader — but they’ll still hurt.
We’ll be on the lookout for more data to become unearthed about this election, as it’s something progressives should learn to harness as we take down some of the conservative Democrats in liberal districts in the near future.