Economics professor Dave Brat stunned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Tuesday and left pundits, politicians and operatives scrambling for an explanation for the lopsided upset, but veteran conservative activist Richard Viguerie says it’s a simple matter of voters being fed up with Washington and the status quo.
Viguerie is a lifelong conservative activist going back to the earliest days of the movement and pioneered direct mail in political campaigning. He is now chairman of conservativehq.com and author of “Takeover: The 100-Year War for the Soul of the GOP and How Conservatives Can Finally Win It.”
On Tuesday, Brat defeated cantor by an 11-point margin, after coming no closer than 13 points in any poll conducted before the primary. Cantor did not take the race lightly. He spent roughly five million dollars trying to portray Brat as a liberal in GOP clothing. Brat spent just $122,000.
The stunning results left the punditry scrambling for an explanation that ranged from Cantor’s positions on immigration reform to Democrats voting for Brat in the open primary in an effort to embarrass Cantor. Viguerie says the motivation for ousting Cantor is no mystery to him.
“They wanted to send a message to Washington. Whether their issue was amnesty for illegal aliens or the out of control spending by the Congress, over-regulation of people’s lives, the IRS scandal, the Veterans Administration scandal, etc., voters wanted to send Washington a message: ‘We’re unhappy with business as usual,'” said Viguerie.
“The establishment Republicans have too long been in bed with the Democrats in growing government. This is a huge wake-up call for Republican leaders, not only in Washington but around the country. The voters are tired of crony capitalism and they’re sending them a message,” he said.
But of all the opportunities for conservative voters to send a message to congressional leaders, why was Cantor vulnerable to defeat within his own party?
“He voted for TARP and to do away with the sequester. He had many bad votes, but perhaps his number one failing was that he failed to lead. Conservative voters want a lot of things from their politicians but the they want most are fighters. They see strong leadership coming from the Democrats for their agenda, whether it’s the president, vice president or (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid. They’re out there speaking aggressively in pushing the liberal Democrat agenda,” said Viguerie.
“Conservatives don’t see that we have effective leaders. We have people who are silent. They just don’t seem to have a backbone. I think that was the number one failing above everything else from the standpoint of the conservative voters. They didn’t see any fight in Eric Cantor,” he said.
Viguerie is not enthused at the prospect of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-California) ascending to majority leader in the coming weeks. He preferred Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who Viguerie describes as a “solid, principled conservative.” Hensarling says he will not run, meaning the field is essentially cleared for McCarthy to be leader for the rest of the year and the real scramble is to replace McCarthy as whip.
House Speaker John Boehner and several of his allies say Cantor’s loss does not change Boehner’s plans to remain as speaker next year. Viguerie believes otherwise.
“I suspect that Boehner will hold on through this year and then step aside before the new Congress comes into office in 2015,” he said.
“If the Republicans are thinking straight, they will bring a really articulate, aggressive conservative to fill that position. Lincoln told us and the Bible tells us, ‘A house divided (against itself) cannot stand’. Right now, the Republican Party is a house divided. If they want to do well in the 2014 election as well as 2016, they’ve got to unite the Republican Party and reach out to the base of the party and make sure that grassroots, limited government, constitutional conservatives are represented in the Republican leadership. Today, they’re not,” said Viguerie.
But while conservatives hailed the Brat victory in Virginia, they also watched South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham easily avoid a run-off in coasting to a win in his GOP primary Tuesday night. In fact, several longtime incumbents have easily fended off tea party challengers this year. So how does Viguerie explain the primary results across the board?
“Ninety-five percent of tea party successes have come in open races. That’s how Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and others won. It’s very, very difficult to beat an incumbent. In order to beat an incumbent, you must have a really high-quality candidate,” said Viguerie.
“When running against these really entrenched incumbents, we haven’t had really quality candidates. In Dave Brat, we had a first-class candidate. We have a first-class candidate running against an incumbent in Mississippi, Chris McDaniel. I think he’s going to win. By these two elections, Virginia and Mississippi, when two quality candidates ran against entrenched incumbents, it will send a message to high-quality conservatives out there, ‘Let me take a chance against the king because it’s been done before with success,'” he said.