A ‘political earthquake’ revives the Tea Party

Last week’s defeat of Eric Cantor, the Majority Leader of the US House of Representatives, by an unknown economics professor called David Brat, has caused a “political earthquake”, says The Times.

Brat’s decisive victory in the Republican Primary in Virginia is the first time since the position was created in 1899 that a sitting Majority Leader has been defeated. The result could have a major impact both on this year’s mid-term elections and on the 2016 presidential elections.

It sent “two clear signals” to the political class: that the Republicans’ radical Tea Party is not dead, and that President Obama’s cherished bill on immigration reform probably is.

The immigration bill, which Brat opposes, would have offered a path to American citizenship for the children of 11 million illegal immigrants.

Brat’s anti-immigration reform rhetoric may be popular with the base, but it could “sow the seeds for future losses” in the general elections, where the electorate is “typically younger and more ethnically diverse” than in the primaries, says Matt Lewis in The Daily Telegraph.

It is estimated that only around 5% of Cantor’s “most hard-core constituents participated in his defeat”. If Republicans “allow their most ardent voters to define them, it could one day be mathematically impossible to garner enough electoral votes to win the presidency”.

Brat’s most visible attack against Cantor was immigration reform, but he was running an anti-Wall Street, anti-corporate welfare campaign, says Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker.

He “turned every issue into a morality tale about big business cheating ordinary Americans”, whether it was the farm bill (which helps huge agribusiness), the flood insurance bill (which benefits the wealthy with coastal homes), or the immigration bill (which would provide a stream of cheap labour).

That’s why it’s right to call Brat a Tea Party man, even if he was “such a long shot” that no national Tea Party association backed him, says Christopher Caldwell in the FT. “He is an ideologue.”

What the Tea Party brings to the Republican party is a “leaven of hostility to capitalism, or at least to crony capitalism”. Brat’s views are “aimed at the heart of an electorate angry at being snubbed in favour of the rich. Those who ignore this anger have already been surprised once.”