Boehner was talking about the groups that claim to speak for the grass-roots, like the Club for Growth and Heritage Action Fund. With those groups scalded, establishment Republicans hoped that Republican members would not be so nervous and follow the strategy promoted by House leaders. Former RNC Chairman and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told me that Boehner’s public comments were a turning point, giving more common-sense mainstream Republicans control of the reins of the party. Main Street Partnership’s Steve LaTourette—whose organization funds moderate Republicans and clashes with Tea Party groups—said the same thing.
If the House leadership needed a member to take a tough vote, they could convince him that his fears of being targeted were overblown. Members no longer had to worry as much about well-financed groups with communications departments harnessing grass-roots anger and pointing it at them. The problem is that’s not what happened in the Cantor race. Those outside groups didn’t play the role in this race that they have in other races that have been labeled as Tea Party vs. Establishment fights. (Though that didn’t stop them from pretending they had a hand in Brat’s victory.) So the message is the refreshing and reaffirming one that it’s the voters who can turn on you. Brat’s win will encourage more attempts, and whether the Cantor defeat can be replicated elsewhere doesn’t matter. All incumbents will think there is a monster hiding under their bed—and maybe they’re right.