Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Real lesson in Eric Cantor's loss:
Beware conventional wisdom

By Sally Kohn
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 2216 GMT (0616 HKT)
Dave Brat's upset primary victory over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia joins a long list of political table turning at the polls. The most famous was in 1948 when Democratic President Harry Truman won the election <!-- -->
</br>over Republican Thomas Dewey. The Chicago Daily Tribune initially called the race for the New York governor. Click for more political upsets. Dave Brat's upset primary victory over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia joins a long list of political table turning at the polls. The most famous was in 1948 when Democratic President Harry Truman won the election
over Republican Thomas Dewey. The Chicago Daily Tribune initially called the race for the New York governor. Click for more political upsets.
HIDE CAPTION
Surprising political upsets
Surprising political upsets
Surprising political upsets
Surprising political upsets
Surprising political upsets
Surprising political upsets
Surprising political upsets
Surprising political upsets
Surprising political upsets
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sally Kohn says Eric Cantor's surprising loss doesn't mean what you think it means
  • What suffered in this race is the shell of our political system, now grinding to a halt, Kohn says
  • Cantor wasn't conservative enough for base but too extreme for everyone else, Kohn says

Editor's note: Sally Kohn is a progressive activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Conventional wisdom can be a dangerous thing.

The media and political chattering class are rushing to explain how Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor could lose his primary election to a relatively unknown challenger. No one saw it coming. And apparently it's not enough to just bask in the shock. We need answers.

But this loss is not just about immigration reform or even the tea party. It's about the insanely unpopular Republican leadership in Congress and one of its figureheads, who increasingly made little legislative progress for America or for his district.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

Yes, in the waning hours of the campaign, immigration was a key issue. But a poll taken on election night shows that fully 72% of Cantor's very Republican district support immigration reform including a path to citizenship.

Conservative commentator Erick Erickson tweeted Tuesday night, and followed up with a blog post today, confirming that Cantor's loss had nothing to do with immigration reform -- though conservatives would happily exploit that narrative. Indeed, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a far stronger and more consistent supporter of immigration reform, handily won his primary last night in a much more conservative voting bloc.

Spreading the myth that Cantor lost because of his (wavering, undefined and weak) support for immigration reform not only does harm to the truth but serves to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which immigration reform is now dead in Congress. It need not be and should not be if voters have any real say in our country -- or if Republicans hope to show leadership on our nation's challenges and win over the future of the American electorate.

But alas, this thinking reflects what really suffered in this race: The shell of our political system, already dreadfully hobbled by Republican intransigence, will further grind to a halt.

Source: Eric Cantor to step down July 31
Chaos at Cantor headquarters after loss
Gergen: Cantor loss signals lose of hope

This is also not necessarily, as noted, because Cantor's challenger Dave Brat was backed by the tea party. Brat was overlooked and brushed aside by most of the national tea party infrastructure -- they hardly showed up. Brat himself Tuesday night on Fox News boasted himself as a traditional Republican. Certainly Brat was supported by local tea party enthusiasts, but he was not exactly waving nor wrapping himself in their Gadsden ("Don't Tread on Me") flag.

Arguably, the reasons for Cantor's demise are more subtle -- and ultimately hold even more danger for the GOP and the nation. As Brian Beutler wrote Wednesday for New Republic, Cantor had largely abandoned his constituents in favor of growing his national profile.

Remember that Cantor had radically undermined disaster funding just before a surprising and deadly earthquake rocked his own district. And Cantor was too busy trying to slash all government funding to use any constructively for the other need of his constituents.

Meanwhile on issue after issue, there was a sense that voters couldn't trust Cantor -- because he, like his party, constantly flip-flopped on every issue in a vain attempt to placate his increasingly vocal right flank.

Beyond that, there's a conflation of gripes here.

Conservative Republicans were increasingly frustrated by GOP leadership in general and Cantor in specific, not courting and honoring the more ideologically entrenched voices within their rank. At the same time, Americans of all political stripes -- including arguably moderate Republicans -- were increasingly frustrated by a do-nothing Republican Party solely committed to political grandstanding while utterly refusing to solve any of the nation's pressing problems.

And this is where the Republicans -- not to mention the good of our country --- are really in long-term danger. We need (at least two) political parties in the United States that wrestle over the big challenges and needs of Americans and, yes, at times actually pass legislation and get things done. Voters are extraordinarily frustrated that's not happening, and they rightly blame the gridlock on Republicans.

It will now only get worse.

Absolutely no one, not even Republican voters, likes what this Republican Congress is doing to this country. Cantor wasn't conservative enough for the increasingly extremist Republican base but was simultaneously too extreme for the mainstream of voters.

Now his party will move further to the right and away from responsible leadership. That's bad for Republicans and bad for America.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT