A political earthquake shook D.C. last week with the upset primary defeat of GOP Majority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Cantor, who outspent his opponent 10 to 1, lost what was regarded as one of the GOP's safest seats to David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College and political novice. He was favored by Tea Party supporters.
Cantor's defeat was touted as proof of a resurgence of the Tea Party movement and evidence of unhappiness with GOP moderates who are inclined to compromise on immigration reform.
The headlines about Cantor's defeat typically read like "Tea Party Cannibalizes Cantor" and "GOP leader Eric Cantor loses in shock Tea Party upset." There was also immediate touting by Tea Party favorites such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida that what they call "traditional conservative ideals" are alive and well.
But the truth is that Cantor lost because he failed to get his supporters to the polls and didn't cultivate support in his district.
The election results "are reverberating all through the nation's Capitol," Cruz said in a statement. "Washington needs to listen to the people, stop spending money we don't have and stand up and defend the Constitution."
But Brat's victory also illustrated the lack of a viable message by the mainstream GOP that resonates with struggling Americans both in the party and among independents and Reagan Democrats.
Cantor's poorly run campaign also exemplified a fundamental ineptitude in both grassroots organization and messaging.
Cantor was defeated in part by a social media blitz by Tea Party pundits who motivated hardcore conservatives to vote. Obama won the presidency partly because his campaign deftly used social media to get supporters to the polls.
Cantor's defeat should teach Republicans that the party needs to learn how to exploit social media to reach Americans who are pessimistic about their economic prospects and political future.
As potential GOP presidential candidates, Cruz and Rubio should be concerned about Cantor's defeat. Americans are tired of the do-nothing politics in Washington. Being an incumbent at any level of politics nowadays makes you vulnerable.
Cantor is quite conservative. He was often in conflict with House Speaker John Boehner. He didn't lose because he was too willing to compromise. He lost because he failed to understand how much his constituents were struggling and that they blame the people running the government in Washington.
This article appeared in Context Florida on June 15, 2014
Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary (stevenkurlander.com) and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.