So Cantor is out.
And the landscape has radically shifted, both for the Republican Party, and for the 2014 election. Here are the biggest ramifications of Cantor’s defeat.
Boehner Is Likely Done. The writing has been on the wall for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) ever since a failed House insurgency in the aftermath of a coup attempt against his speakership in January 2013. Boehner had been under fire ever since his sequestration deal with President Obama in 2011; his “fiscal cliff” deal with President Obama at the end of 2012 only drove further pressure. Boehner’s repeated attempts to covertly push amnesty legislation have lost him his base. And the departure of many of his top allies in Congress leaves him vulnerable this year. Cantor’s ties to Boehner may signal that a successful insurgency is on the way. Aides are telling the National Journal, “We’re absolutely stunned. Honestly, we really can’t believe it.”
The “Young Guns” Are Firing Blanks. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Cantor were considered the so-called “young guns” in the House, preparing to take over leadership from Boehner and company whenever he stepped down. Ryan and Cantor have been vocal about their desire for immigration reform legislation this year. Cantor is now gone. And Ryan’s position as a leader is in serious jeopardy.
The Death of the Tea Party Was Greatly Exaggerated. After the 2012 election cycle, pundits and the chattering class deemed the Tea Party dead. After the last round of primaries, in which Tea Party groups backed incumbents in many races and lost against incumbents in others – ignoring the victory of Ben Sasse in Nebraska, which the media did – the Tea Party had been relegated to the dustbin of media history. Not so much.
The Conservative Media Has Firepower. Without the power of Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Breitbart News, and others in the new media, the consistent and steady push for amnesty in the House would have gone largely unremarked upon. Instead, it has become a national issue, firing up the base. Ousting a powerful figure like Cantor is not easy. It takes a major movement to do so. That major movement came as a result of scrutiny from conservatives in the media.
The Corporatists -- Including the US Chamber of Commerce -- Took a Major Hit. The major business interests within the Republican Party, including the Chamber of Commerce, have been heavy backers of amnesty in Congress. They just got outclassed by an on-the-ground grassroots force. The split between those two groups paves the way for an all-out brawl between the corporatist Republican establishment and the Tea Party capitalists come 2016.
Establishment Candidates Are In For a Rough 2016 Ride. In 2012, Texas Governor Rick Perry saw his candidacy end on the question of immigration. In 2016, Perry will be in the mix again, as will Jeb Bush. Both are perceived as soft on immigration by the base. The establishment Republican Party is significantly warmer to such candidates than the grassroots are. It’ll be cash vs. activism in 2016. In Cantor’s district, activism just won a stunning victory.
Democrats Will Shift the 2014 Narrative to Immigration. With the conservative base fired up about immigration, President Obama and the Democrats will seize on Cantor’s defeat to once again swerve to the “Tea Party as anti-immigrant extremist” narrative. The goal: to avoid talking about Obamacare and split the Republican Party. It won’t work. The Cantor defeat is the death knell for the immigration reform caucus in the GOP, at least for this cycle, and that means that the party will be more, not less unified.
Barack Obama Will Use This As An Excuse for Executive Action -- After The Election. Obama has been threatening executive action for years on immigration. And he has the power to blanket amnesty millions, as I’ve written before in this space. But now Obama believes he may have a ray of hope in campaigning on immigration. That will delay any executive action beyond the election. He’d rather campaign on the basis that he needs a compliant Congress on immigration than act unilaterally prior to the election and have to answer questions about abuse of power.
This is a stunning night for the GOP. And just as in 2010, the establishment and its donors have no idea just what to do about it. The answer should be: unify.