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
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT