Cantor defeat means no ObamaCare replacement vote?
posted at 12:01 pm on June 12, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
So says Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn, but the logic here is similar to that of the immigration-reform vote, only with less real meaning. On immigration reform, the only thing standing in the way of its conclusion is House Republicans, who don’t trust Barack Obama to adhere to the law and ensure border security before beginning large-scale normalization of millions of illegal immigrants. The proposed Republican replacement for ObamaCare would be going nowhere anyway:
The prospects of Republicans rallying around a replacement policy and scheduling a vote was already an uphill endeavor — one that few expected to actually happen. After all, the House GOP had been trying to agree to a plan for several years already.
But the loss of the House leader who was most closely allied with the lawmakers seeking a vote is probably an insurmountable obstacle.
The fight over an Obamacare replacement is both ideological and tactical. The House Republicans are split on what policies should be part of any legislative package. And they disagree on whether they are better off going on record in favor of specific proposals before November or sticking to less-specific health reform principles.
Cantor sided with the group wanting a vote on a replacement plan, and he promised fellow Republicans earlier this year that the House would do it. The vote was meant to quell rising concern among rank-and-file members that they were against Obamacare but not for anything else.
“He’s the guy who made the commitment,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), and a strong advocate of a House floor vote. “I mean, he’s not dead. He’ll be there until the end of the year. But I think that it lessens the chances.”
The issue in this case isn’t that we’d miss an opportunity to replace ObamaCare. Some House Republicans (and probably some running for Senate seats) want a comprehensive alternative on the table so that they can attack ObamaCare and defend against a charge that they have no ideas on how to fix health insurance markets and access to providers, especially on areas where the electorate clearly wants some solutions — like pre-existing conditions, for example. Others worry that a comprehensive proposal will allow Democrats to distract from the utter failure of ObamaCare by going on the attack over the details of the Republican plan, which would have exactly zero chance of being enacted into law as long as Barack Obama remains President anyway.
Cantor’s resignation from House GOP leadership means that he won’t be able to deliver on the promise for a vote on a comprehensive plan, but … I don’t see why the next Majority Leader would be unable to take it up, if the caucus wants it. Kevin McCarthy seems set to follow in Cantor’s footsteps for the rest of this session, and if the same pressure comes on McCarthy as did Cantor, it’s not clear why this would produce any different result, especially since this is more a strategic issue than a conservative/moderate issue.
In fact, given the response Salena Zito found among Cantor’s constituents about their deep dissatisfaction with his performance, amplified confrontation might suit the next Majority Leader better:
Had he campaigned at home and spent Election Day there, instead of with lobbyists at a Capitol Hill fundraiser in Starbucks, the outcome might have been different for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, analysts said on Wednesday as his astonishing primary loss sunk in.
Cantor, R-Va., underestimated the anti-Washington sentiment among voters in his 7th Congressional District, said Bruce Haynes, a Washington-based Republican strategist.
“What this race tells me is that people do not care about seniority as an argument for re-election, or how high up you are in leadership,” Haynes said. “They care that who they send to Washington is ‘one of us.’ ” …
White believes the disconnect began with his vote for TARP legislation, the 2008 financial bailout that authorized hundreds of billions of dollars in expenditures. But other issues were more personal for people, she explained: “He didn’t hold town halls; he didn’t keep appointments.”
The lesson, as I conclude in my column at The Fiscal Times today, is that Cantor lost touch with his constituents — and the rising disgust with big institutions, and big institutionalists:
Cantor appears to have lost touch with his constituents and their need for a champion rather than a disconnected politician climbing the ladder in nearby Washington DC. One early warning sign missed by most pundits was an action by activists in Cantor’s district to oust one of his allies from the chair of the county Republican Party last month. The district convention signaled deep unhappiness with Cantor on the grass-roots level, and with the party establishment on both the state and federal levels.
That should have alerted Cantor that any idea of a 34-point lead in the district was fanciful and that long-term complaints about his focus might put him in danger. Dumping tons of money into negative-campaign attacks against Brat not only raised his profile, but also aggravated the problem. Cantor would have done better to spend the money on positive advertising and retail politicking, rather than taking his district for granted.
To that point, Brat gave voters a reason to turn out and send a populist message to the state and national party. Immigration may be part of that, but it’s not the whole reason, or even the most important part. Brat offered a purpose and a moral perspective on which voters could choose, while Cantor’s engagement with the district presented more of a calculation about power and influence.
That argument might have worked in the past as voters put more trust in institutions, but as Ron Fournier argued at National Journal, those days are passing away on both side of the aisle into a more iconoclastic populism that targets the institutions and the power they wield. Cantor’s high profile as a House GOP leader, added to his lack of connection to home-district voters within a day’s drive from his Washington DC offices, combined to put the former heir apparent out of the succession altogether.
It’s not as if Cantor didn’t get some signals that he was in danger. The Washington Post highlighted one big red flag in particular:
Last month in Richmond, Eric Cantor stepped to a microphone in a hotel ballroom full of Republican activists from his home district. He was clearly ticked off.
Cantor’s wife and two of his kids were there. His mother was there. His mother-in-law was there. And right there in front of them all, a little-known professor from a little college had just called Cantor a bad conservative. The normally cool Cantor was about to strike back — showing a pique he has turned on the president but rarely shows in public.
“When I sit here and I listen to Mr. Brat speak,” Cantor started, referring to challenger Dave Brat, “I hear the inaccuracies . . .”
The crowd cut him off. After all of 24 seconds.
Then the man who expected to inherit the House of Representatives was drowned out by a bunch of booing nobodies. …
Instead, a look back at Cantor’s defeat shows that it was a real rejection by a broad swath of his district’s Republican voters. And there were warning signs that it was coming: the heckling of Cantor in that convention speech and defeats of his acolytes in low-level party elections this year.
But Cantor missed those signs for far too long — focusing on his ambition in the House while his base crumbled beneath him.
That’s the story of Cantor’s loss (that and the steak dinners). The lesson to be learned from it has little to do with leadership fights, which hardly impressed Cantor’s constituents, or even on specific policies. It’s about remaining connected to the district and acting in the interests of voters, rather than on institutional interests.