Eric Cantor’s loss in the Republican primary Tuesday night sent shockwaves through the establishments of both parties. The previously dominant “Tea Party is dead” narrative has been unceremoniously dumped. Some in the media seem to be pursuing two new storylines: “Support for immigration reform dooms Republicans” and “the Tea Party is actually dominant in the Republican Party.”
But both of these explanations run into problems. Lindsey Graham is one of the faces of immigration reform, and he won his primary handily. The “inmates running the asylum” narrative runs into the very real establishment wins from earlier in the cycle — the same wins that gave rise to the “Tea Party is dead” storyline.
In truth, I think the explanation is a bit simpler than all of that, and is more universal than the simplistic “immigration reform/Tea Party” narratives suggest. It is as follows: We are in a deeply anti-Washington environment, both throughout the country and in the Republican Party in particular. In this environment, representatives who pay insufficient attention to what is going on in their districts are in grave danger of losing. There are two components to this explanation.First, analysts need to understand that the Republican base is furious with the Republican establishment, especially over the Bush years. From the point of view of conservatives I’ve spoken with, the early- to mid-2000s look like this: Voters gave Republicans control of Congress and the presidency for the longest stretch since the 1920s.
And what do Republicans have to show for it? Temporary tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, the Medic