Cantor loss sends jolt through political world

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Cantor falls in stunning upset to Brat
  • Defeat highlights difficulty for GOP on dealing with immigration reform
  • Plenty of questions about Cantor’s campaign strategy
  • House Republicans now without heir apparent to Boehner
  • Obama weighs in on guns in light of recent shootings

Shocker – Cantor goes down: In by far the biggest political upset of this midterm cycle and, in fact, in recent memory, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., was defeated handily, 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent, by tea party upstart Dave Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College. Cantor is the first sitting House majority leader to lose a primary since the position was created in 1899. Brat made immigration the principal issue in this campaign. As Brat told NewsHour’s Rachel Wellford over the weekend, “It’s nothing personal against Eric. It’s just — I don’t see what he’s doing on immigration.” That was a message that was only amplified with the activist base as the unaccompanied minors’ border crisis continues. Cantor is just one of several Republicans this cycle to draw a primary opponent because of a perceived receptiveness to do anything on immigration reform. That openness was branded as “amnesty” even if the small steps Cantor proposed weren’t even close to the comprehensive reform plan the Senate passed, and didn’t endorse a path to citizenship.

The GOP’s immigration minefield: It’s a reminder of just how difficult the issue of immigration is for Republicans, especially in gerrymandered districts that produce the most polarized candidates. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had to go on a virtual apology tour during his 2008 presidential bid after his support for reform in 2005 to 2007. He pledged to “build the dang” fence in his 2010 re-election bid. Yes, other Republicans this cycle drew primary challenges on immigration and survived — Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who blew away the field Tuesday in a conservative state, and Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C. But make no mistake: Cantor’s loss and these other primary contests show again that Republicans are more likely to draw challenges from the right on immigration than put them at risk of losing to a Democrat in the fall. And it is that tricky line that Republican presidential candidates will again have to walk in 2016. They will have to try and balance an activist base they need behind them and a changing demography in the country. This result will also have a chilling effect on whatever openness there was to do anything -– even small and piecemeal -– in the GOP-led House this year and beyond. As one Hill aide told Morning Line, immigration legislation was “basically dead already.”

Perfect storm: What’s also shocking about this result was that Cantor, by all accounts, was taking it seriously. He’d outspent his opponent $5 million to $123,000, although $168,000 of that money was spent by Cantor’s campaign at steakhouses, more than what Brat spent on his entire campaign. Think about that. Does anything tell you more about the cultural optics problem Cantor had in this race? Cantor did run ads against Brat and put out mailers hitting him. And his team thought they were going to prevail easily. His campaign put out an internal poll this past weekend showing Cantor up 30-plus points. Asked what happened, a Cantor aide simply said, “Exactly.” Cantor ran into a perfect storm — anger with him over immigration; the base’s growing irritation since the government shutdown, which Cantor was against, plus his efforts to rebrand the party; and a primary that is by its nature lower turnout than a general election, in a state used to picking candidates at conventions. And it’s not like Cantor had built up support with moderates, given his stance that even earthquake disaster relief funding — for an earthquake that affected people in his district –- had to be offset by spending cuts. By the way, even though turnout was up (65,000 to 47,000) from 2012, for those trying to point to a Democratic conspiracy because Virginia does not have registration by party, making this an open primary, ask yourself what’s more likely -– that Democrats came out in such big numbers in a Republican primary that they threw the election or that Brat had the enthusiasm edge with the activist base?

The race for speaker: This result is going to have massive repercussions in the race for speaker. Cantor was the heir apparent to Boehner. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported last night that Rep. Paul Ryan -– right now -– is saying he won’t run for a leadership position, and Boehner, who is going to be under massive pressure not to retire, wouldn’t comment. Boehner released a statement Tuesday night calling Cantor “a good friend and a great leader.” New York Rep. Peter King told Costa: “I don’t know where we go now as a party. I’m very concerned that we may go all the way to the right.”

The Hillary tour gets bumped: For most of the day Tuesday the release of Hillary Clinton’s new memoir was all the rage in the political world, until the Cantor news swept in and stole her thunder. From the media and book appearances, to the social media push, most everything about the book’s rollout seemed to be handled with precision. It just goes to show how even the best laid plans can be undone by factors beyond one’s control. That said, the release of Clinton’s book managed to occupy a few news cycles, and her comments during the ongoing tour will likely continue to generate headlines. Clinton kicked off her book tour Tuesday at Manhattan’s flagship Barnes & Noble in Union Square before a crowd of more than 1,000 people, many of whom had slept outside. Wednesday, Clinton participates in the Chicago Ideas Festival, where she’s interviewed by Rahm Emanuel, the city’s current mayor and former Obama White House chief of staff. On Tuesday’s NewsHour, Gwen Ifill spoke with former Clinton adviser Ann Lewis, Democratic strategist Chris Lehane and New York Times Clinton beat reporter Amy Chozick about the rollout and what it might mean for Clinton’s future ambitions.

Obama on guns: In an event that was supposed to be focused on student loans — an on-camera Q&A for the social media site Tumblr — President Obama wound up making news on guns. In an emotional plea, the president said the country had to do some “soul searching” when it came to mass shootings and said his “biggest frustration” as president “is that this society hasn’t been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do damage. We’re the only developed country where this happens. And it happens weekly. Our levels of gun violence are off the charts.” He went on to mention how other countries have changed while the U.S. has not, and that members of Congress are “terrified of the NRA,” the National Rifle Association. “The fact that 20 6-year-olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion possible and this town couldn’t do anything about it was stunning to me.” The president travels to Worcester, Mass., where he will deliver the commencement address at Worcester Technical High School at 4 p.m. ET.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1963, President Kennedy sent National Guard members to force Alabama Governor George Wallace to step aside and allow two black students to register for classes at the University of Alabama. What was the protest by Wallace called? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Holt Bowmer ‏(@HoltBowmer) and Mason James ‏(@MasonJames) for guessing Tuesday’s trivia: Who is the only president to have graduated from the Naval Academy? The answer was: Jimmy Carter.


  • Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will testify before the House Armed Services Committee on the transfer of five senior Taliban detainees at 10 a.m. ET.

  • At 2:10 p.m. ET, National Security Adviser Susan Rice will deliver remarks at The Center for a New American Security’s National Security Conference.

  • A closed-door briefing on the prisoner swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Tuesday did not appear to diminish the concerns of some senators.

  • Congress is moving unusually fast on legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs department. On Tuesday, the House passed a bill that will allow the VA to use private companies to help deal with treatment delays.

  • Following Rep. Eric Cantor’s concession speech last night, a group of immigration activists descended on the election night headquarters, demanding immigration reform. The demonstration turned into a shoving match, but no one was arrested.

  • Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran went on the offensive Tuesday against state Sen. Chris McDaniel, accusing his primary challenger of being “an extremist” who would hurt the state by turning down federal assistance for things such as disaster relief and social programs aimed at helping the poor.

  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed Rep. Jack Kingston Tuesday in the Georgia Republican Senate runoff against former Dollar General chief executive David Perdue.

  • Maine State Sen. Emily Cain won the Democratic nomination and former state treasurer Bruce Poliquin won the GOP nod in the Pine Tree State’s 2nd Congressional District. Rep. Mike Michaud is running for governor.

  • No Democrat took first place in the nomination to challenge Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval because more Democratic primary voters selected “none of these candidates”. Former state Economic Development commissioner Bob Goodman came in second and will be on the November ballot.

  • Former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan asked Democratic Sen. Mark Begich Tuesday to sign a pledge against outside TV spending in the state’s Senate race. That doesn’t mean he’s against third-party spending as a form of political speech…in other states.

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., is out with a new ad attacking Republican candidate Monica Wehby for being closely aligned to the GOP establishment.

  • After losing a Democratic majority in the state Senate this week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D-Va., was forced to give up his fight with legislators to expand Medicaid. Now McAuliffe is contemplating executive action before the June 30 budget deadline.

  • McAuliffe’s Republican opponent in the race for governor, Ken Cuccinelli, was named president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, per ABC.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has officially renounced his Canadian citizenship. Cruz didn’t know he had dual citizenship until last summer.

  • Testimony from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd before the legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures revealed that the man many think will be the next attorney general “asked few questions and made few efforts to get to the bottom of who orchestrated the lane closings and why,” the Star-Ledger reports.

  • Washington Post’s Niraj Chokshi reports there have now been 74 school shootings since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


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