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Parker: Cantor defeat no threat to GOP establishment

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Updated: July 16, 2014 6:34AM



WASHINGTON — About that stunning defeat.

Conventional Wisdom, that self-righteous propagandist, has it that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s trouncing by an academic, Tea Party nobody marks the end of the GOP establishment.

College professor Dave Brat crushed Cantor, and the old-guard Republican Party is toast! It’s over. Finito. And those were the Democrats talking.

Funny thing is, the Tea Party folks have been saying more or less the same thing, for exactly the same reason. It fit the narrative that served both groups.

Prior to Cantor’s loss, there was a growing perception that the Tea Party was losing its power to overthrow the titans. Witness the primary election victories of a couple of its old-timer targets among Republican senators, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell.

The Democratic Party was losing its narrative that the Tea Party wacko-birds control the GOP. Thus, Brat was a gift from Google. Or God.

In the nation’s capital, the mourning for Cantor was over faster than a Rick Perry gay fundraiser. It’s an awesome day, or something, when Nancy Pelosi and Ted Cruz are grinning about the same state of affairs. You don’t know whether to signal Scotty to beam you up or whistle for Toto.

The truth is, the Tea Party will be lucky to oust U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in a primary election runoff, though it would hardly be considered a rout. Cochran has been on the run lately, stumbling over a series of errors and literally dashing out the back door of one event to evade CNN’s Dana Bash.

And, as though the South needed one more anecdote to convince the rest of nation that something seriously strange has contaminated the region’s DNA, Cochran recently reminisced fondly of his days doing “all kinds of indecent things with animals” when he was a young lad visiting the state’s Pine Belt.

“I know some of you know what that is,” he told the Hattiesburg, Miss., audience.

Oh, do tell. On second thought, don’t.

Two victories, assuming the second, hardly bestow bragging rights on the Tea Party. Nor would they bolster the Democratic narrative that the Tea Party has conquered the GOP.

Also, let’s not forget, Cantor wasn’t an old establishment guy. He was one of the “Young Guns,” the title of the book in which he and fellow Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan featured themselves as the new generation of conservative leadership. Those are some highfalutin’ words to live up to.

Reality check — People who self-identify as “young guns” are setting themselves up to get shot down. It isn’t that they can’t gunsling with the best of them, it’s that they feel the need to tell you they can. Young gun, eh? We’ll see about that.

The Tea Party didn’t really support Brat, who raised a measly $231,000 for the race compared with Cantor’s $5.7 million. Conservative, Tea-Party-leaning Republicans ultimately may have supported Brat, in part thanks to talk-radio promoters, but they weren’t expecting him to win any more than he was.

Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, was so surprised that he has yet to think out his platform. Other than water-cooler talks at the gym about ethical systems, free markets and the rule of law (read, “no amnesty”), he hasn’t really nailed down his policy positions.

So MSNBC’s Chuck Todd discovered upon asking Brat on Wednesday about raising the minimum wage. Sort of breezy with his answer, saying he didn’t have a “well-crafted response,” and “you can’t make up wage rates,” Brat explained that he didn’t get much sleep the night before.

Poor Zachary Werrell, Brat’s 23-year-old campaign manager, who was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t find time to return a call to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and had to scramble to hire a communications staffer.

In the meantime, Werrell uttered the saddest words in political history — “We’re not going to be making any statements until we get professional PR help,” he said in an interview with Politico.

Brat, in other words, isn’t quite ready for the prime-time slot he’s expected to win in November. But he had something Cantor didn’t have, a ground game. Brat’s lack of political sophistication served him well. Instead of watching polls, he knocked on doors. As for Cantor, the polls showed him winning, so why bother to press flesh?

Here’s another reality check — it’s always about the ground game. This is the real lesson of Cantor’s stunning defeat. Sometimes a loser is just a loser.



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