WASHINGTON — Republicans, including the vanquished majority leader himself, on Sunday considered Rep. Eric Cantor’s primary loss last week to a little-known tea party challenger and what it means for the GOP heading forward.
The monumental rejection of House Republicans’ No. 2 lawmaker left many in Washington stunned and searching for a way to prevent another upset. Following his defeat, Cantor, R-Va., announced he would soon step down from his GOP leadership post but serve the remainder of his term.
“I don’t think there’s any one particular reason why the outcome was what it was,” Cantor said, adding, “I don’t think anybody in the country thought that the outcome would be what it was.”
Fellow Republicans offered a litany of reasons but no single flaw fueling Cantor’s loss.
“People are making all kinds of claims about what happened or didn’t happen in this primary without actually realizing what the facts were on the ground,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who runs the GOP House campaign committee.
Cantor’s challenger, economics professor Dave Brat, campaigned against Washington as a whole and railed hard against the 7-term incumbent for seeming to be flexible on an immigration overhaul. At the same time, Cantor did not take his challenger seriously and was not in his district enough for some voters.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008 and 2012, said pundits were making too much of Cantor’s defeat.
“I know it’s our inclination to look at races and suggest that somehow a national movement is causing what occurs,” Romney said.
Instead, Romney and others urged, party leaders need to consider all of the factors that went into Cantor’s loss.
“I don’t think Eric got beat because of his stand on immigration. I think he got beat because of his lack of defining himself on immigration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Graham faced much the same criticism that Cantor faced over stalled immigration proposals but spent heavily, campaigned hard and avoided a runoff against a crowded field of underfunded rivals.
“Politics is war in another form,” Graham said.
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Cantor didn’t do enough to remind voters in his district why they had re-elected him every time he’s run since 2000.
And rank-and-file Republicans are just fed up with anyone in Washington — even their own.
“There is enormous energy at the grassroots conservative base of the Republican Party. And they’re upset about Washington,” Walden said.
That frustration has complicated Republicans’ efforts this year. Longtime Sen. Thad Cochran is in a nasty runoff in Mississippi for his seventh term because neither he nor tea party-backed challenger, Chris McDaniel, captured 50 percent of the vote during their first meeting. A fierce primary for the open Senate seat in Oklahoma is shaping up. And the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, had to spend millions to win re-nomination in Kentucky.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the internal squabbling will be settled well in advance of 2016, when Republicans are eager to try to win a presidential race for the first time since 2004.
“We will be united in the presidential election,” Priebus said.
Cantor spoke to CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week.” Walden appeared on “Fox News Sunday.” Romney and Cuccinelli spoke to NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Graham was interviewed on CNN and CBS’s “Face the Nation.” And Priebus was on CBS.
PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press