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
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1022 GMT (1822 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT