Cantor’s swan song

WASHINGTON — About that stunning defeat.

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

The tea party candidate crushed Cantor, they say. The old-guard Republican Party is toast! It’s over. Finito.

And those were the Democrats talking.

Funny thing is, the tea party folks had been saying more or less the same thing, for exactly the same reason. It fit the narrative that served both groups. The tea party was losing its power to overthrow the titans. Witness the primary victories of a couple of old-timer targets, 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, Dave Brat, the Republican nominee for Cantor’s seat, was a gift from Google. Or God. But I repeat myself. The narrative is back, baby!

In the nation’s capital, the mourning for Cantor was over faster than a Rick Perry gay fundraiser. It is 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 Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran in a primary 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 just 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, oh, don’t.

Two victories, assuming the second, hardly bestow bragging rights on the tea party. Nor, consequently, 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, 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 gun-sling 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.

Indeed, the tea party didn’t really support the Republican Brat (how delicious is that name?), who raised a measly $231,000 to Cantor’s $5.7 million. Conservative, tea-party-leaning Republicans ultimately may have supported him, in part thanks to talk radio promoters, but they weren’t expecting Brat 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 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.

Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Her email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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