Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

How Eric Cantor's 'House of Cards' fell apart

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Thu June 12, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: Eric Cantor's upset is a little bit Shakespeare, a bit "House of Cards"
  • She says the irony is that Cantor was the tea party's rep in the party leadership
  • Borger: The ambitious Cantor made right decision on supporting "Dreamer" legislation
  • But she says he failed to explain himself to voters in his own district

(CNN) -- Eric Cantor's loss in a Republican primary against an unknown economics professor with barely enough money in the bank to buy a mailing list is a political twist that's a little bit Shakespeare and a little bit "House of Cards."

Oh, the irony, as the Bard himself would declare: Cantor was one of the original "young guns" who recruited some of the tea partyers, whose progeny then destroyed him. He was their rep in the more establishment leadership, a public thorn in the side of the White House during the 2011 budget negotiations. Cantor was primed to go places, maybe even to the speakership. But when high ambition strikes, political roots can be severed -- even if unintentionally. "Measuring the drapes is never a good political strategy," a GOPer told me. See: Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar."

This being politics, a loss is mourned until the sharks circle. Cantor is not yet gone and the questions abound: Who will replace him in the leadership? (Establishment or tea party?) Will House Speaker John Boehner (whose job he coveted) stay on longer? (Probably yes.) Will the tea partyers be in full revolt against all the establishment leaders? If this were TV, Kevin Spacey might say, "You might say that; I couldn't possibly comment."

Cantor 'earthquake' rattles Capitol Hill

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

But here's what's really going on today: The GOP is trying, once again, to figure out exactly what it is -- and what it can aspire to be. At this point, it's a successful congressional party: in control of the House. In the hunt to win control of the Senate, with a real shot at it. An opposition party that shut down the government and thwarted immigration reform.

One teensy problem: The reasons the GOP succeeds as a congressional party are very much the reasons it fails on the presidential level. Base politics works in GOP primaries, to be sure. It also works in congressional races that have been gerrymandered and tailored to partisan voters. But it's a lousy strategy if you want to win the presidency.

GOP 'earthquake': Cantor loses
Chaos at Cantor headquarters after loss
Gergen: Cantor defeat signals loss of hope
Cantor loss 'sending shivers' among GOP

Cantor lost his race for lots of reasons having to do with his own disconnect from his district, or at least the most conservative primary voters in his district. He was so disconnected, in fact, that by the time he realized he was in trouble the train was coming right at him. Arrogance? Maybe. Political malpractice? Maybe.

Opinion: Who said the tea party was dead?

The Eric Cantor upset is a little bit Shakespeare, a little bit \
The Eric Cantor upset is a little bit Shakespeare, a little bit "House of Cards", says Gloria Borger.

But there's something else: Cantor, in recent years, actually started behaving as a leader. While he was a holdout against the budget deal in 2011, he wanted to end the government shutdown last year -- to the everlasting dismay of the hell-no caucus. And the sin recently was his decision to support one strand of immigration reform -- a path to citizenship for children who were brought to the United States illegally -- the so-called Dreamers. It was a leadership decision. It was the right decision.

So now Republicans will run scared, and run away from immigration. They will overread this as a litmus test of what they can and cannot support. It's sad, really, because GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham -- who is trying to work a deal on immigration reform -- won his GOP primary with almost 60% of the vote in South Carolina. So, if Cantor lost and Graham won, how did that happen? Graham actually went back home, explained his positions to the voters and got out his supporters. Politics 101.

But, as usual, the politicians will overdraw the lessons from the Cantor loss -- and draw the wrong ones, too. Cantor's demise will scare Republicans away from immigration reform which, as a national party, is an issue that they should embrace. Sure, it hurt Cantor -- and brought out opponents from the woodwork. But here's the real problem: Cantor never figured out that he had to explain himself to the voters who were actually going to show up to vote in the primary.

Shakespeare might remind Cantor that "Men at some times are masters of their fates." And Frank Underwood would no doubt be succinct in his analysis of Cantor's loss: "Friends," he tells us, "make the worst enemies."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
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.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
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.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT