Last night, Eric Cantor, the House's second-ranking Republican, lost his primary to a Tea Party-aligned newcomer named David Brat. The surprising defeat effectively halts the conservative's quick rise through the ranks of the House GOP leadership at a time when pretty much everyone assumed he'd be the next speaker after John Boehner.
We don't know what's next for Cantor yet (under Virginia rules, he's barred from having his name on he general election ballot as an independent now that he's lost a primary). Fortunately, he's left us with a lot to look back upon as the media spends the next several days writing the legislator's political obituary. Here are some highlights:
When this was his high school yearbook blurb:
This, by the way, is the song it comes from. Blossom wrote the lyrics for many of Victor Herbert's musicals.
The whole yearbook thing became a think piece anchor back in 2011, when everyone was interested in whether Cantor represented the new "face" of the Republican Party and whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
When he almost lost his first Republican primary
In 2000, Cantor decided to run for the seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Bliley. Although he won the general elections easily, his margin of victory over primary rival state Sen. Stephen Martin was just 263 votes. Since then, until last night, he'd easily won re-election in the conservative 7th district every two years.
When McCain (maybe) picked Palin over Cantor for VP
The John McCain campaign vetted Cantor in 2008 for the vice president spot on the Republican ticket that ultimately lost to Barack Obama. As Politico wrote at the time, Cantor was seen as the "full package" VP pick — he was "young" (45 years old), he was from a battleground state, and he won the approval of the religiously conservative Southern Baptist Convention. Instead, McCain went rogue and picked Sarah Palin, and well, you know the rest. After the campaign however, an anonymous McCain staffer called the reports of Cantor's vetting a "complete and total joke."
Palin, by the way, has already congratulated Brat on his surprise win.
When he was a "young gun"
All the way back in 2010, Cantor, Rep. Paul Ryan, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy — now the Majority Whip — wrote a book all about how they were the "young guns" of conservatism. The idea was that the "common-sense conservative" trio would help put Washington back in touch with "real" America, i.e. conservatives. They even made a trailer for it:
Now, McCarthy might be the next Majority Leader in the House.
When he "anchored" the Tea Party wing of the House
Just over a year ago, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza profiled Cantor in the context of the GOP's naval-gazing following the 2012 election losses. Given that Cantor just lost this week's primary to a challenger from the Tea Party-aligned right, Lizza's profile serves as a good reminder that Cantor's role in the House has effectively been that of a champion for (and arguably the architect of) its Tea Party wing's priorities. In the past, that's often been in opposition to Speaker Boehner. Lizza wrote that Cantor "anchored" the Tea Party in the House, and was the "creator of a strategy to oppose and obstruct the Obama agenda." Lizza continues with an example of just how much influence he managed to get for the GOP's conservative wing:
Cantor was one of the most influential political forces in Obama’s first term. In June of 2011, the President and the Speaker began working toward a Grand Bargain of major tax increases and spending cuts to address the government’s long-term budget deficits. Until late June, Boehner had managed to keep these talks secret from Cantor. On July 21st, Boehner paused in his discussions with Obama to talk to Cantor and outline the proposed deal. As Obama waited by the phone for a response from the Speaker, Cantor struck. Cantor told me that it was a “fair assessment” that he talked Boehner out of accepting Obama’s deal. He said he told Boehner that it would be better, instead, to take the issues of taxes and spending to the voters and “have it out” with the Democrats in the election. Why give Obama an enormous political victory, and potentially help him win reëlection, when they might be able to negotiate a more favorable deal with a new Republican President? Boehner told Obama there was no deal. Instead of a Grand Bargain, Cantor and the House Republicans made a grand bet.
When Cantor monopolized the power to end the government shutdown
Just before the government shutdown went into effect last fall, the Republican leadership made a small rule change pertaining to how Senate bills could get to the House floor, one that effectively extended the government shutdown by preventing a vote to end it. Under normal rules, as Talking Points Memo explained at the time, any member of the House should have been able to make a move to end the congressional gridlock by bringing a Senate proposal to the floor that had enough votes from Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass. But the new rule gave only the House Majority Leader — Cantor — the power to do that. Here's Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen drawing attention to that rule change after the fact:
Despite Cantor's direct role in extending the length of the government shutdown, his opponent listed his eventual vote to end it as one of the signs that the majority leader was no longer a "true conservative."