Eric Cantor forgot the #1 rule in politics

Eric Cantor“Unprecedented!


Out of left field!” (or in this case, right field)

Unexpected!… Stunning!… Shocking!…

Writers all over the country are pulling out the old thesaurus to try and find the right words to describe US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss last night.

In addition to the right headline grabber, writers were (and are) scrambling to find out WHY Cantor lost. People I know and trust call him the “workhorse of the Republican majority, a statesman, a faithful husband, and a great father. He also surrounded himself with some of the best people I’ve ever met in my years of service in the House.”  Others have a different opinion, calling him “arrogant” and “unreliable”.

Some posit that it’s because Mr. Cantor was willing to work on immigration reform and didn’t counter inflammatory charges of “amnesty.” Or, that he was a pro-amnesty hack who “got what he deserved“.  However, a PPP poll conducted yesterday suggests that’s not really the case:

About 72 percent of registered voters in Cantor’s district polled on Tuesday said they either “strongly” or “somewhat” support immigration reform that would secure the borders, block employers from hiring those here illegally, and allow undocumented residents without criminal backgrounds to gain legal status….Looking just at Republicans in Cantor’s district, the poll found that 70 percent of GOP registered voters would support such a plan, while 27 percent would oppose.

Still others point fingers at his polling firm, who admittedly totally, completely, missed this one.

Some say it’s proof that the tea party is not dead, even though tea party candidates have had an abysmal primary season trying to take out incumbents.

Some point to the GOP circular firing squad and the irony of Eric Cantor being taken down by the tea party movement he helped unleash. (Certainly some truth here.)

Some Democrats are claiming credit for Cantor’s loss, according to the Washington Examiner. “Dave Brat will be an inconsequential one-term backbencher howling against the oncoming tide,” said an email from a key Democratic anti-Cantor organizer Monday. “Leader Cantor losing because Obama supporters turned out to vote against him, will be the lead story in the national news on Wednesday.”

While all of these could have – and probably did – play a role, from where I sit, (armchair quarterbacking from Utah), there is one over-arching reason Cantor lost.

He ignored his base.

John Fund, writing in National Review said

Many constituents of Eric Cantor felt he had ignored them for years, rarely returning home and often ignoring them on key issues ranging from expanding Medicare prescription-drug benefits to TARP bank bailouts. The frustration boiled over at a May party meeting in his district, where Cantor was booed and his ally was ousted from his post as local party chair by a tea-party insurgent. “He did one thing in Washington and then tried to confuse us as to what he did when he came back to his district,” one Republican primary voter told me.

Even RedState, who celebrates Cantor’s loss, said it wasn’t immigration but an ignoring of his base that did him in.

Cantor and his staff both lost the trust of conservatives and constituents. They broke promises, made bad deals, and left many feeling very, very betrayed. Much of it was because of Cantor’s hubris and the arrogance of his top staffers. He could not be touched and he could not be defeated. He knew it and they knew it. He kept his attention off his district, constituents, and conservatives while he and his staff plotted to get the Speaker’s chair.

Cantor lost his race because he was running for Speaker of the House of Representatives while his constituents wanted a congressman.

Ezra Klein said he ignored the fundamentals of “Get Out the Vote” and wasn’t even in his district when polls opened, but instead was in a DC Starbucks.

The folks at Real Clear Politics see it the same way.

Cantor thought he had the race “in the bag.”  By all accounts, he did not even think he had a credible challenger until about a month ago.  He did not take his race seriously – he took it for granted and he took his constituents support for granted too.  He refused to debate his opponent, he refused to hold town halls and would rarely make time to meet with constituents.

Even then, it took a few election cycles for enough constituents of VA-7 to show up at the polls and let their dissatisfaction be known. Perhaps it’s because he had always “gotten away with it” before that lent itself to the stunning shocker of an outcome. (See what I did there?)

It seems that while he might have listened well and worked hard on Capitol Hill, he forgot to listen to the people who hired him – his voters.  He slipped into the arrogance of entitlement, that sense of being “better than” those he was supposed to represent. He is not the first to be blind-sided by the natural results of hubris, nor will he be the last.  Utah has a fine history of that happening too.

Maybe it’s time for a little reminder of this well-known adage by John Templeton, billionaire philanthropist:

It is nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

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