Explainer sites find Cantor’s loss inexplicable

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost to David Brat in a primary election Tuesday.

Eric Cantor delivers a concession speech Tuesday. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

How to explain a loss this seismic? Especially when the incumbent spent about as much at steakhouses as his opponent spent on his whole campaign (that “factoid will define this race,” Dave Weigel wrote on Twitter).

  • New York Times explainer site The Upshot takes an unusually honest tack in the headline for its explainer: “Why Did Cantor Lose? Not Easy to Explain.” Nate Cohn tries anyway:

    Tea Party candidates have generally struggled this year, and Mr. Cantor outspent his underfunded opponent by a huge margin. Mr. Cantor easily defeated a primary challenge in 2012, generally a better year for the Tea Party, by nearly a 60-point margin. Turnout was not unusually low: More than 63,000 votes have been counted so far, up from around 47,037 in 2012.

  • FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten looks for meaning in a “less commonly discussed” dimension of DW-Nominate scores, which rank members by votes. While Cantor is “more conservative than any of the Republicans thought to be in trouble in 2014,” the second dimension “has come to represent something like an insider vs. outsider (or establishment vs. tea party) spectrum,” Enten writes.

    I don’t want to claim that Cantor’s defeat was all that predictable — it wasn’t. But he does share something in common with those who lost before him, as DW-Nominate places him firmly on the establishment side of the spectrum.

  • Vox’s Ezra Klein offers “provisional thoughts” rather than an overarching explanation (Vox does have a “primer” on Brat). The Republican Party, he writes, “has a serious data problem.”

    In 2012, Mitt Romney’s internal polls were garbage. This year, Eric Cantor’s internal polls showed him up by more than 30 points. Something is deeply wrong with the GOP’s campaign infrastructure if the party’s presidential nominee and the party’s House majority leader can’t rely on their pollsters.

Thanks for the explanations, but why didn’t anyone see this coming? “Like most congressional primaries, we didn’t know much about this race,” Danny Vinik writes. “Independent pollsters generally stay away from these races. District-level polling is just very hard to do accurately. In other words, data can only tell you so much.”

Dave Weigel (him again!) noted that The Washington Post wasn’t expecting Brat to win:

On Twitter, Post reporter Robert Costa directs readers to this May 14 story, which said Brat was a “potential threat to Cantor’s hold on his solidly Republican, suburban Richmond district.”


We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Jonathan B

    Very low turnout theory doesn’t seem to mesh with the New York Times mention above, which notes that turnout was not unusually low.

  • AlainCl

    Why is no one mentioning the influence of Democrats here? No, *not* the handful of crossover votes against Cantor spurred on by Ben Jones, but volunteer work in the campaign by Democratic election pros like Brian Umana (who managed Rick Waugh’s campaign against Cantor in 2010): http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/06/13/im-a-democrat-and-i-helped-the-tea-party-unseat-eric-cantor/

  • JTFloore

    sure sounds possible. they do hate barack, as irrational as that is.

  • giantslor

    I think the wingnuts were upset that “Obongo” had not been impeached and convicted of treason under Cantor’s watch, so they destroyed him. It’s not rational, but neither are the wingnuts.

  • JTFloore

    so far I have read none of the “expert” analysis as to why cantor lost. heaven knows the pundits will be yapping about this for months, particularly when they don’t have anything better to opine about. but it does seem to me the explanation for cantor’s defeat is simple enough: a very low turnout greatly magnifies the impact of the angry minority, i.e. the tea baggers with whom cantor had played footsie but, as it turned out, was not radical-right enough to get their votes. maybe the voters were smart enough to realize cantor was saying one thing back home and something else in Washington, never an effective strategy. of course, brat has his own explanation why he won: he says god was on his side. hard to beat god.