[Ed. – Notice that Klein finds the Tea Party exertion of power ‘weird,’ but he has no problem with Obama’s exertion of power, which is known by another name: usurpation.]
Eric Cantor’s shocking defeat at the hands of David Brat is that rarest of things in American politics: a genuine earthquake. And like with real earthquakes, the damage will be much greater because so few were prepared. A few provisional thoughts:
- The Republican Party’s core problem isn’t the extremism of its members but the weakness of its leadership. Tonight, the Republican Party’s problem got much, much worse.
- “Republicans” are not the same as “Republican primary voters.” In 2012, Eric Cantor won the general election with more than 220,000 votes. Tonight, Brat beat him with about 36,000 votes. It’s possible and even likely that the vast majority of Republicans in Virginia’s 7th District liked Cantor just fine. But primaries only count the people who come out to vote.
- Immigration reform is dead and Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes are so, so alive.
- Mere weeks ago the press was writing the Tea Party’s obituary. Tonight, the Tea Party claimed its single biggest scalp. This speaks to the weird way the Tea Party exerts powers.
- The power of the Tea Party has never been the number of Republicans it defeated in primaries. The overwhelming majority of Republican incumbents running for reelection win their primaries without trouble. Rather, it’s been the prominence of the Republicans the Tea Party defeated that give the movement its sway. Dick Lugar, Mike Castle, and Bob Bennett. They were institutions. And Eric Cantor’s loss is a nearly unprecedented event in American politics. These losses mean no Republican is safe. And that means that as rare as successful Tea Party challenges are, every elected Republican needs to guard against them.