Cantor’s loss good news, but press will make sure it’s not

The Stand

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 11, 2014) — The big political news today is that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who many considered the Speaker-in-waiting, was defeated Tuesday in a primary election by a little-known conservative economics professor, David Brat, in what the media has dubbed a victory for the “Tea Party.” Cantor, a six-term incumbent, lost to a guy with no experience in elected office despite being outspent by nearly 20-to-1.

GOP leader Eric Cantor loses in shock Tea Party upset,” proclaims the USA Today. Similar headlines awarding the election victory to the Tea Party come from ABC News, NBC News, Fox News, and most newspapers this morning.

But dig a little deeper. Cantor’s challenger received nothing from the Tea Party itself and was almost completely unknown. The story emerging among political insiders, now that no one feels compelled to kiss Cantor’s ring, is that everybody hated him — including his own constituents — because they thought he was a crappy Congressman and a phony, not because he didn’t hate immigrants enough or wasn’t extreme enough in his conservative views.

The real news is not that the Tea Party has experienced a huge victory — as proclaimed this morning by the Associated Press — it’s that Virginia voters went with Anybody But Cantor. The lesson here should be that even entrenched incumbents can lose elections if they are universally hated and horrible at their jobs. That should be good news and reason to celebrate — whether you’re a liberal, moderate, or conservative.

Unfortunately, the commercial media will make sure it isn’t.

Why? For starters, the Tea Party doesn’t even really exist. Surveys, even those by Republican pollsters, consistently find that just 8-12% of people consider themselves members of the Tea Party. That percentage hasn’t changed since the media named them five years ago. This group is what used to be called the far right-wing of the Republican Party. But the effect of having a party name and getting all of this media attention is to embolden people that used to be marginalized — with good reason.

The Tea Party is a media construct being financed by a handful of super-rich right-wing billionaires — who also finance think tanks like Washington state’s own Freedom Foundation. They are now exploiting the Citizens United decision to set up non-profits that are immune from campaign disclosure and exempt from paying taxes, even though their purpose is primarily political. These billionaire extremists would like nothing more than to claim Cantor’s loss as their victory, even though they had nothing to do with it either financially or ideologically. And the press, which loves the Tea Party and their outrageous extremism, is proving quick to oblige.

That will have real consequences. Cantor’s defeat will be bad news in the short term for anyone who supports immigration reform, infrastructure investment, or any other substantive legislation any time soon. Today’s Cantor analysis in The New York Times suggests:

(Cantor’s) demise will reverberate all the way to the speaker’s chair, pull the top echelons of the House even further to the right and most likely doom any ambitious legislation, possibly through the next presidential election. Conservatives who have helped fuel some of the most contentious showdowns over the last three years on issues such as immigration and raising the federal debt ceiling are likely to be emboldened by Cantor’s shocking loss as they seek to replace him with someone even more closely aligned with their views.

If this proves to be true, it is more evidence that the commercial media’s fascination with what they call the Tea Party is responsible for unbending obstruction and dysfunctional governance in Washington, D.C.

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