Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

7 reasons Eric Cantor lost

By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Jeremy Diamond, CNN
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Not long ago, Cantor was seen as the tea party voice within House leadership
  • To some, Cantor embodied the arrogance of power
  • Cantor gets blamed for being in Washington on Election Day, not in his district
  • Dave Brat made up for the fund-raising shortfall by rallying his staunchest supporters

Washington (CNN) -- The man in line to be the next speaker of the House lost his primary Tuesday in Virginia. The outcome of the race shocked Eric Cantor, challenger Dave Brat and political pundits and analysts.

The day after Cantor's devastating defeat, those same people are trying to answer the critical questions: Why and how did a well-funded, powerful, conservative member of Congress lose to a political novice?

1. Too much political calculation: Cantor is known for smart political calculations and ambition, but this year those attributes may have cost him his job.

One thing that's been lacking throughout Cantor's career is loyalty among his constituents, says Russell Berman, reporter with The Hill.

"He has always been seen as somewhat calculating," Berman said, noting Cantor changed his position on immigration in the final weeks of the campaign.

CNN political editor Mark Preston agreed, adding that Cantor tried to have it both ways.

"It was only just a couple years ago that Eric Cantor was seen as the voice, so to speak, for the tea party within the leadership. The past couple of years, he seemed to have been moderating his views a little bit," Preston said.

Eric Cantor: It's disappointing
Lemon: 'Can we say holy you know what'
Should Cantor resign?
Dave Brat: 'This is a miracle'

2. Too much ambition: CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger noted that as the No. 2 Republican in the House, Cantor was in line to become speaker, a position he wanted.

"(He) was seen as very ambitious, somebody who spent a lot of time fund-raising for the Republican Party," Borger said.

Cantor 'earthquake' rattles Capitol Hill

Republican strategist Ben Ferguson said Cantor "forgot that his job was to go to Washington and fight for conservative ideas."

"He embodied -- from many of their perspectives -- sort of the arrogance of power. That I think has a lot to do with it. And along those lines ... he didn't tend to the district," CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash said

3. Disconnected: Ambition and calculation lead to being disconnected.

"This is Eric Cantor's fault. He was in Washington on Election Day, not back in his district," CNN chief national correspondent John King said. "His confidence, his smugness, his arrogance cost him his seat."

Borger agreed. "This is a repudiation of Eric Cantor personally, that he failed Politics 101, which is to keep in touch with your district," she said.

"And that was an issue," Ferguson said. "When you start having your operatives deal with the little people in your district -- like, oh, you take their phone calls, oh, you e-mail them back, I'm too busy for that, I'm this big dog in the GOP -- the way that Eric Cantor, John Boehner, John McCain have acted, you get your rear end kicked eventually."

4. Turnout/enthusiasm: Brat's campaign didn't come close to matching Cantor's deep pockets, but Brat made up for the fund-raising shortfall by rallying his staunchest supporters.

"Money can't buy enthusiasm," Bash said.

CNN political analyst John Avlon said the difference may lie in voter turnout, which stood at just 12% on Tuesday.

Cantor, Cantor, Cantor
Should Cantor resign?
Should Cantor resign?

"When you get these very low turnout primaries and the people are not paying attention to, they can be easily hijacked by activists. There is no question Eric Cantor would have won a general election in his district," Avlon said.

5. The role of the right: Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent, said conservative media corralled the troops to vote for Brat in numbers that Cantor did not match.

"Laura Ingraham, for example, to name one talk radio host, was very supportive of Brat, even held a rally for him in Virginia this time last week. The top of her website today said, 'Vote Dave Brat today.' Other radio hosts also supported him. Ann Coulter supported him. And I think they are going to be getting credit in the days to come. Tonight on Fox News, Megyn Kelly called Ingraham instrumental to this victory," Stelter said.

6. ... and the left: Larry Sabato, diirector of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said Democrats, who make up 43% of the district, played a role as well.

"There was a major outreach to Democrats in that district," Sabato said. "You had Brat operatives going to Democratic Party committees, even on election eve, asking them to go to the polls to get rid of Eric Cantor. It had nothing to do with Dave Brat. There were robocalls to Democrats in that district, wanting -- telling Democrats come out to the polls."

7. He was a casualty of a bigger battle: "(Cantor had been) taking conservative position after conservative position after conservative position, but almost 100% wasn't enough for these folks. And I think of it as a major message to Republican leadership," Avlon said.

Borger said that Cantor's loss to a challenge from the right, despite rock-solid conservative credentials, puts the GOP at a crossroad.

"I think they're kind of at the proverbial fork in the road. They can either be a congressional party and win these congressional seats by going further to the right, or they can become a presidential party in which you have to move to the middle."

Cantor was not only an establishment figure, GOP Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska noted, but was deeply involved in negotiating with the White House to end the government shutdown last fall.

"And that was used against him. And so the message to us is, negotiation or compromise could get you beat," Terry said.

Jack Trammell is the Democrat who no longer has to face Eric Cantor

5 aftershocks from Cantor's stunning upset loss

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:07 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Republicans who pressed President Barack Obama for a more coordinated federal response to the Ebola outbreak are blasting the appointment of Ron Klain, a veteran Democratic political aide, as the "Ebola czar."
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The campaign trail for two candidates in top-tier Senate races took a detour Thursday to a Capitol Hill committee room for a high-profile hearing on Ebola.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Former President Bill Clinton poked fun Thursday at his reputation as Democrats' "campaigner-in-chief" during a political swing through New Hampshire.
updated 12:44 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
updated 7:11 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
President Barack Obama canceled a campaign trip at the last minute to stay in Washington and spearhead a more aggressive national response after Ebola infected two nurses and frightened Americans with the prospect that their health system is not equipped to handle a catastrophic medical event.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Four weeks away from the 2014 midterm elections and even some Democratic operatives struggle to imagine a scenario where they retain control of the U.S. Senate. The terrain and current momentum seem all but overwhelming and against them.
updated 6:36 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
National Democrats have pulled their TV advertising in Kentucky, signaling that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is increasingly likely to survive in what had been one of 2014's marquee races.
updated 10:40 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
The most important race this year is the one for U.S. Senate in Kentucky. But the stakes are high in others, too.
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
The performance in the early voting arena could be a big battleground within the battlegrounds.
updated 2:23 AM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
The midterm elections are quickly approaching and the threat of ISIS is slowly creeping into political ads.
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
The chairman of the Republican National Committee is trying to tear away at the party's obstructionist image.
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
CNN's Inside Politics panel discusses the President's troubles with winning over the public on the economy.
updated 1:45 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The formula is well known: Help campaign for your party's candidates in the midterms, run for president two years later.
updated 2:01 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
About a month from the midterms House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was already predicting a sweep for her party in the 2016 election.
The conservative-leaning outfit has emerged as one of the most powerful actors in American political campaigns.
Voters head to the polls over the coming months to choose their candidates for November's general election. Here's who votes when.
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
The major story line so far in 2014 is the ongoing battle that pits mainstream Republicans against tea party and anti-establishment groups.
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
S. E. Cupp interviews Carly Fiorina about her effort to rally conservative female voters for Senate races.
ADVERTISEMENT