Eric Cantor has announced plans to step down as House Majority Leader, effective July 31. Cantor suffered a stunning primary defeat at the hands of Tea Party candidate David Brat. He will serve the remainder of his term in Congress, but will no longer be the GOP’s leader there. He will probably support Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy to replace him, and we can expect a flurry of Republicans to line up and run for the position between now and June 19.
His loss is probably a good thing for the country, although his opponent, David Brat, is an even harder-core Tea Partier who is even farther to the right than Cantor was. Virginia’s 7th district has been unhappy with Cantor’s performance in Congress, particularly as far as immigration went. Cantor supported a path to citizenship for children of immigrants, which his extremely conservative constituents considered to be the same as amnesty.
But Cantor was also the face of GOP obstructionism in Congress. Salon author Simon Maloy called him “basically everything the GOP could ask for in a majority leader.” Cantor was one of the architects of the 2011 debt ceiling showdown, for instance, refusing to accept any deal that included revenue increases as a means of reducing the federal deficit.
Since Republicans have taken a hard line against revenue increases because that generally means tax increases (or closing tax loopholes, or anything like that), Cantor’s refusal time and again to accept deals that included tax increases should make him a Tea Party hero.
But he’s not, and now the Republicans are losing a very powerful member of the House, all because he wasn’t quite far enough to the right. David Brat attacked Cantor for eventually voting to raise the debt ceiling, and to end the government shutdown (which hit Virginia very hard; nearly one-third of Virginia’s population is made up of federal employees). Immigration reform, in any form, though, is amnesty to people as far right as Brat, and because Cantor had the audacity to think that attempting to mend the deteriorating relationship between the GOP and Hispanics might just be a good thing.
However, Cantor’s loss and Brat’s victory could be a good thing for Democrats. We can’t expect Virginia’s 7th district to vote in any Democrats come November; they’re entirely too conservative to think of such a thing. But if Brat decides to ally himself with the likes of Ted Cruz et al, he could further the image of the GOP as being totally insane, narrow-minded, hateful bigots. That might help get another Democrat elected in 2016.