Seventh District US Congressional Republican candidate, David Brat displays an immigration mailer by Congressman Eric Cantor during a press conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
Steve Helber/AP

Eric Cantor defeat puts talk of tea party demise to rest


So much for this year’s storyline that the tea party no longer packs a political punch.

In the biggest upset so far of this midterm season, tea party challenger Dave Brat, a college professor, defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s Republican congressional primary.

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 6/10/14, 10:40 PM ET

Stunning upset for Eric Cantor

Eric Cantor was beaten by a tea party challenger in the Virginia Republican primary. Ari Melber talks to Chuck Todd, Kiki McLean, Krystal Ball, and Steve Latourette.

And the race wasn’t even close, with Brat winning by 10 percentage points, 55 percent to 45 percent (with almost all precincts reporting).

Cantor, who was first elected in 2000, is the No. 2-ranking House Republican, and it’s extraordinary for a congressional leader to lose his or her primary race.  

One of the big reasons for the upset: the highly charged issue of immigration. 

Cantor had previously supported a “Dream Act”-like proposal to provide a path to citizenship for children who were brought to the United States illegally. “One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents,” Cantor said in a speech a year ago. ”It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.”

Brat attacked Cantor on immigration. “Eric Cantor is saying we should bring more folks into the country, increase the labor supply - and by doing so, lower wage rates for the working person,” said primary opponent David Brat, per Reuters

To protect his right flank on immigration, Cantor sent out mailers saying he led the fight against President Obama’s “amnesty” – that is, comprehensive immigration reform that had passed the Senate a year ago.  

But as Tuesday’s Virginia primary proved, that ultimately wasn’t enough.  

Before tonight’s tea party victory, establishment Republicans had cruised to victory in many contests. In North Carolina, the Chamber of Commerce-backed Thom Tillis won the state’s Senate GOP primary. In Idaho, an establishment incumbent congressman defended his seat. And in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell easily defeated his Tea Party challenger.

But in Mississippi last week, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., was forced into a June 24 runoff. And now the No.2-ranking House Republican goes down to defeat.

The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 6/10/14, 10:43 PM ET

What does Cantor's loss mean for the GOP?

Cantor’s loss has many in the GOP establishment wondering how vulnerable they are. Ari Melber, Krystal Ball, Kiki McLean, Steve Latourette, Jonathan Allen discuss.

Dave Brat, Eric Cantor, Immigration Policy, Immigration Reform, Tea Party Caucus and Virginia

Eric Cantor defeat puts talk of tea party demise to rest