Before everybody gets too deep into any kind of analysis of Eric Cantor’s primary defeat by an economics professor, and before we declare some broader meaning, you need to remember one thing.
All politics is local.
Back in 1994, the second district of Oklahoma was represented by a young, very liberal guy named Mike Synar. The Synars were an old Oklahoma family, which is sort of how you could explain how a near socialist could represent Muskogee.
In Muskogee, as Merle Haggard famously sang, they don’t smoke marijuana or take their trips on LSD. (They do and they did, but in much smaller numbers than most places.)
Another factor in that was the fact that despite his political leanings, Mikey was a very likable guy. He was the kind of guy that you loved to have a beer with, watch a basketball game on TV with, and argue politics with until 3am. (He was also the kind of guy we sincerely mourned the loss of when he died way too young.)
But Mikey’s other problem was that he seemed to be attracted to issues that simply weren’t Muskogee issues. Examples include intellectual property (so he could hang around with Hollywood starlets) and Western grazing issues (which assured him great vacations.)
He was also one of the plaintiffs who took down the Gramm Rudmann deficit reduction bill in court, and that—believe me—did not resonate well in Muskogee (or any other part of Oklahoma.)
In short, he was one of those guys who held a safe seat until he didn’t…
By 1994, he had pissed off just about every conservative in the district; and he got beat by a 71-year-old retired schoolteacher in the primary, who got beat by Tom Coburn in the general.
Asked about the primary loss, one of his staffers said, “Well, I guess there is a limit to the number of times you can tell your constituents to go screw themselves and keep getting re-elected.”
In Cantor’s case, he forgot he represented the Virginia Seventh District.
He was a heartbeat away from becoming Speaker of the House, and surely that was more important just being a plain old Congressman from Virginia.
Only there’s a limit to the number of times you can tell your constituents to go screw themselves and keep getting re-elected.
Some people never hit that limit. Take Harry Reid. He may die before it catches up to him.
He stopped representing Nevada in 2007. But in 2010, he convinced enough Nevada voters that it was more important to be the majority leader in the Senate than to represent our interests.
Will that hold true in 2016? Maybe, maybe not.
It depends on issues that are largely local. Harry could get away with calling President George W. Bush a “loser” to a class of fourth graders.
Whether or not he can get away with calling the supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy “Domestic Terrorists” remains to be seen.
It used to be that the guy who was in the leadership of either the House or the Senate was so powerful that his re-election from his home district was almost insured by the shock and awe factor.
But when they continually forget who brung them to the dance, strange things happen.
Like getting clotheslined in primaries.
So don’t read too much into the ideology of the winner or the loser. The winner hasn’t peed a drop, and the loser ignored his district.
The voters got tired of being told to go screw themselves.
And all politics is local.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (Flickr)