When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor unexpectedly lost his midterm primary to a little-known Tea Party candidate named Dave Brat on Tuesday night, liberals around the country cackled and rejoiced, even as journalists scrambled to figure out who, exactly, Brat is.
Unfortunately, as thrilled as people might be to see Cantor out of office soon, his spectacular loss shouldn’t be cause for mirthful celebration. Sure, Cantor’s upset is a total embarrassment for the Republican Party. It marks the first time in history that an incumbent majority leader — one with 13 years in office — has suffered such a tremendous defeat. And it’s certainly reassuring to know that Cantor's smug face will be shut out of the government that he and his party shut down just this past October.
However, Cantor’s loss has also revealed just how utterly unprepared the Democratic Party was to contest his election this fall.
Come November, Brat, the newly-minted Republican nominee, will be facing off against one Jack Trammell, an associate professor of sociology and director of Disability Support Services at Randolph-Macon College, the same small institution at which Brat teaches economics. While Trammel might be a perfectly adequate professor (and even, according to one review on Rate My Professors, the “BEST PROFESSOR EVER!!!!”), he doesn’t appear to have run for or held any previous public office, and was only nominated as a candidate by committee on Monday
Why Monday? Well, as of that late date, according to the Washington Post, “No candidates had entered the party’s primary.”
Apparently, when it came to finding a candidate who could, ostensibly, counter the House Majority Leader of the United States, the Democratic Party of Virginia decided to put in less time and attention than one might dedicate to nominating a PTA chair or finding a guest speaker for a Rotary Club meeting.
It may seem understandable that Democrats wanted to focus their time and funds elsewhere. Virginia is gerrymandered such that primaries are usually a foregone conclusion, and the congressional district in question, Virginia’s seventh, has voted Republican in all but one federal or statewide election since 1996.
The problem with that strategy is that when the Democratic party fails to truly participate in or contest elections throughout the country (despite a supposed 50-state strategy “that means fielding candidates and providing resources to even the most traditionally ‘red’ parts of the country”), it allows fringe groups on the right to step in as the party of opposition. If, as Democratic National Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz put it, the Virginia result demonstrates that “the Tea Party has taken control of the Republican Party,” Democrats have none but themselves to blame.
Gleefully toasting Cantor’s loss ignores the fact that Brat, a guy who has half-formed ideas about “the free market” and who once wrote a paper titled “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations of Ayn Rand,” has been vaunted into the national spotlight, and, thanks to the lack of a true competitor, stands a good chance of being elected to Congress.
What could have been a truly triumphal moment for liberals, had Democrats noted Cantor’s declining margins in general elections and put forward an even moderately experienced and viable candidate, is, instead, an embarrassment for both parties, and evidence of a problem that won’t be fixed by either Cantor stepping down as majority leader or the proliferation of satirical Craigslist ads.
Hopefully, Brat’s weaknesses (he had difficulty securing even Tea Party endorsements) and renewed national attention will result in an influx of funds and organizational assistance for Trammell, resulting in a truly hard-fought contest this fall.
And perhaps, moving forward, the Democratic Party will stop treating difficult elections as foregone conclusions and the liberal residents of red states as a lost cause, thereby renewing our faith in the democratic process, and giving all of us a true cause for celebration.