Eric Cantor & the Tea Party Purge

Will the GOP Cower Still More to the Far Right?

In 1961, John F. Kennedy said: “In the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

In November of 2010, Eric Cantor said: “The Tea Party are ... an organic movement that played a tremendously positive role in this election. I mean, certainly, it produced an outcome beneficial to our party when you’re picking up at least sixty-some seats.”

Yes, Republican leaders happily rode the Tea Party tiger when doing so was convenient. Now, Cantor has fallen to the very forces he and his colleagues unleashed and encouraged. After an electoral earthquake that shocked the party’s system, the GOP’s top brass will be scrambling to figure out what lessons they should draw.

Unfortunately, they’ll probably absorb the wrong ones. Rather than taking on the Tea Party and battling for a more moderate and popular form of conservatism, they are likely to cower and accommodate even more.

Because immigration was a central issue used against Cantor by David Brat, the insurgent professor who defeated him by 11 points, the immediate betting is that House leaders will once and for all declare immigration reform dead for this session of Congress. Governing is likely to become even less important, if that’s possible, to House Speaker John Boehner. Just holding a fearful and fractious GOP caucus together will become an even greater preoccupation.

It might usefully occur to some Republicans that Cantor was not their party’s only incumbent challenged by the Tea Party in a primary on Tuesday. In South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham overwhelmed six Tea Party challengers, securing 57 percent of the vote and avoiding a runoff.

While it’s true that Graham did what he could to satisfy his party’s ultras -- for long stretches, it seemed that not a day went by when he didn’t use the word “Benghazi” -- he did not, as Cantor did, twist this way and that on the immigration question. On the contrary, Graham defended his support of immigration reform and his vote for a bipartisan Senate bill.

We’ll never know if Cantor would have done better if he had held steady on the subject. What we do know is that sending out campaign literature bragging about a news story that declared him “the No. 1 guy standing between the American people and immigration reform” did nothing to placate or persuade those who were out to defeat him.

Republicans who simply want to keep tacking right to maintain their power should also note that if the Tea Party helped mobilize support for them in 2010, it now threatens to reduce the party to a right-wing sect.

The movement is very good at organizing its own, but it is doing little to attract new voters the GOP’s way. If anything, the party’s rightward drift is pushing people out. In December 2010, 33 percent of Americans told Gallup’s pollsters they considered themselves Republicans. Last month only 24 percent did. Although the turnout was up in the Brat-Cantor race, participation has been low in most of this year’s Republican primaries.

Appeasing the Tea Party could create a vicious cycle: the more the party is defined by a hard core, the easier it will be for the most conservative voters to dominate it in primaries involving only the most ardent.

Cantor actually showed signs of understanding this. He gave speeches, including his “Making Life Work” address in February 2013, that at least acknowledged the need to address the practical worries of Americans who are not particularly ideological and don’t wave “Don’t Tread on Me” flags.

Politicians, he said, needed to respond to citizens’ “real life concerns.” These included such basics as “where can you find an affordable home in a good neighborhood to raise your kids?” and “which health-care plan can I afford?” and “will the children make it through high school and get into a college of their choice, and if so, can you afford it?”

Yet Cantor may have been most comfortable on safe conservative ground. He tried to start a practical policy conversation but did not take bold next steps to modify the direction the party took in 2010.

What the Tea Party giveth, the Tea Party taketh away. Its energy in 2010 was directed against President Obama and helped Cantor become House majority leader. Now its sights are set on purifying and purging the Republican Party. But purges, as Cantor has learned, are painful. They can also be dangerous to a party’s long-term well-being.


(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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Time mag has an article about Bratt attending a Catholic Church along with a few other Protestant churches which is his denomination and education. Sounds like an old San Franciscan pol who attend 2-3 Churches every Sunday and shook hands outside on the sidewalk. He attended most of his districts funerals , waiting as the priest  started to get up to say the rosary and then walked fast down the isle to kneel at the coffin.... to whispers of 'That's the assemblyman'.

Lot better than social media on the local scene. ? 

And  I say don't underestimate that Cantor being a Jew did not register well for right wing  rural Virginians especially that this was Cantor's first primary election.. he was picked to run initially  by the Chamber GOP.

Why can't I find out if legal baby killing had anything to do with this election? 

Mr. Dionne used the term "Tea Party" as a pejorative in the title of his article and 10 or more times in the article itself despite the fact that Mr.Brat received little or no financial or material  support from any "Tea Party" organization.
Perhaps Mr.Dionne can connect whatever dots he imagines exists between Mr. Brat and the "Tea Party' as love of country, disgust with scandals, the failure to close the borders and the lies upon lies by this administration seem to be the only possible connections.
For the uninformed Mr Brat posted and ran on these these six points:

"That the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice,

"That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society,

"That fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government,

"That the Federal Government must preserve individual liberty by observing Constitutional limitations,

"That peace is best preserved through a strong national defense,

"That faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers is essential to the
moral fiber of the Nation."
It would be interesting to learn which of Mr Brat's position on these time tested ideals Mr Dionne disagrees with or objects to.


Ed:  sounds like "Uncle Miltie" Marks ... and subsequently his wife Carolyn ... to me.

Use your Google, dear.

Because the Tea Party is such a shining example of fact-based reason?

E. Patrick Mossman


The only thing you have demonstrated about Brat and the Tea Party is that the candidate did not have "official" Tea Party support, watever that means, since the Tea Party is not a legitimate politcal party in this country. What you claim does not mean that Brat was not elected by Tea Partiers.  The conservative WSJ had two article attributing Cantor's defeat to the Tea Party.  And this article from the Washington Examiner shows that the Tea Party is now thrilled with Cantor's upset and is taking credit for it So Dionne is hardly wrong to identitfy the role fo the Tea Party in Brat's victory.

E. Patrick Mossman:

Mr. Brat's platform is long on platitudes and short on details where, as always, the devil resides.

Country-club Republicans vehemently tout the merits of the free enterprise system.  They never admit that we don't HAVE a true free enterprise system--we have corporate welfare.  If you ever try to pin down a Big Oil CEO on whether his company should give up its tax breaks in the pursuit of pure free enterprise, lots of luck to you.

Nor do I think that CEO--or you either--want to live in a country so committed to free enterprise that it would have no regulations guaranteeing the safety of our air, water, and food.

Probably because the fact that you phrased your question that way implies you really don't much understand the issue.

Well, point number one is meaningless, there hasn't been a 'free enterprise' system in the world in historical times. Private enterprise and free enterprise are not exactly the same.

Point number 5 is wrong, peace is best insured by promoting democracy, and freedom, throughout the world. In the short term, however, it has a point.

The other points are pretty much meaningless soud bites or, where actually meaningful, more suited to the democratic party.


The Tea Party  deserves the pejorative slant. While Brat may not have gotten overt Tea Party support, he got large sums spent on his behalf by the Tea Party backers.

The love of country and scandals, are on both sides of the aisle. The lies involving this administration are far more in the lies told about the administration.

Probably because the fact that you phrased your question that way implies you really don't much understand the issue.


Sorry, didn't note, that was addressed to Margaret Dunkle.

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