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 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT