Many of us have described House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning upset loss in the Republican primary as a political earthquake that will send a tsunami across the Washington, D.C., landscape. Folks have said this is a surprising disruptive force in our country’s politics. Yes, too often in analyzing political events we sometimes overplay what something means or conversely we underplay what it all is telling us.
The more I think about it this surprising loss by a powerful incumbent leader is more akin to an asteroid hitting the ocean and creating more waves in our status quo system of governing today. And this asteroid is a part of a larger asteroid field that has been bombarding our politics for nearly a generation. If we really look, it has been there all along, and we just go on with our commentary forgetting that there are more asteroids to land. We act like every time this happens it is shocking and comes out of nowhere, but our political earth has been getting hit for years by this disruption.
It has happened from election to election over the last 20 years. Every time one party believes it has the mandate of the American public, another asteroid hits where the party in power loses. Or another politician loses in a primary when the voters think he or she just isn’t getting what they are trying to communicate. These asteroids are disturbing the entrenched powers in our politics, our economy, and our media. And the force of all these asteroids will only grow in force, frequency, and impact until our leaders respond.
But let us pause for a moment and see what this latest political event might be telling us, or rather reminding us of what our landscape really looks like. Today, I can point to five meanings behind Majority Leader Cantor’s loss.
1. Money matters much less than message. Cantor outspent his opponent by a ratio of nearly 25 to 1! In fact, Cantor spent more on dinners in Washington, D.C., than his opponent spent in total for his whole campaign. We are at a moment where big message and momentum trumps big money, and this has been the case for election after election in the last few years. An incumbent candidate can’t solve their problems of being out of touch with their constituency by throwing cash and consultants at it. It will eventually catch up to them.
2. Washington, D.C., is a fatal virus that will take leaders down. Once someone becomes captive of Washington and catches Potomac fever, voters will react strongly against them. Being part of the status quo of the federal government, which is distrusted and despised by most voters, is lethal in the long haul. American citizens want a total reform of how Washington does business, and our two political parties are seen as having contracted this virus and are distrusted as well.
3. Wall Street, while doing well in this economy, is seen not as serving a broader purpose of helping all Americans, but as in it for their own advancement and enrichment. Over the last generation, the top 5 percent of this country has done very well and advanced financially, while the rest has been stagnant or fallen behind. Leaders who take care of the titans of Wall Street will ultimately take themselves out of a job.