A resurgent Tea Party movement has just cost the second most powerful leader in the House his seat.
Republican Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, lost his renomination bid to represent Virginia’s 7th Congressional District to college professor David Brat, an unknown and underfunded Tea Party-aligned candidate who took 55.5 percent of the vote against Cantor's 44.5 percent.
“The demise of the Tea Party has been greatly exaggerated,” USA Today wrote on Tuesday night after the results, which surprised just about everybody in American politics, were in.
While much of the media simply got the viability of the Tea Party wrong, GOP heavyweights had a vested interest in believing the insurgent movement was on the wane. As Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast pointed out, “Cantor’s loss is a huge disruption of the narrative that the Republican establishment had taken control this year.”
The Democrats, on the other hand, got a chance to reinforce the message that the hard right has a death grip on the GOP.
Cantor’s loss “settles the debate once and for all -- the Tea Party has taken control of the Republican Party. Period," said Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, in a statement.
“When Eric Cantor, who time and again has blocked common-sense legislation to grow the middle class, can't earn the Republican nomination, it's clear the GOP has redefined 'far right,'” Schultz added.
Tea Partiers would probably be happy to agree: Their goal has been to define "far right" and to make sure Republicans don't think it's safe to move toward the center.
“The statement from the grassroots could not be any clearer. It doesn’t matter what office you hold or how powerful you are. If you lose touch with activists on the ground, then your seat is in danger,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in a statement.
While Democrats will use Brat's victory in Virginia to push the image of an extremist GOP, Cantor's loss may not actually help the party: it could make President Barack Obama's remaining two and a half years even tougher. Moderate Republicans will likely become even more cautious about protecting their right flanks or appearing in any way to cooperate with the White House -- especially on immigration, which many analysts saw as the Tea Party challenger's most powerful weapon against Cantor.
Still, while Cantor's defeat was an enormous triumph for the right, the picture has been more mixed elsewhere.
Also, the primary race in Virginia had a particular set of circumstances. According to the Associated Press, a row between the Republican party establishment in Virginia and Tea Party factions has raged in the Old Dominion ever since Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli lost last year’s gubernatorial race. For many conservative voters, this may have been payback.