'This Week': Majority Leader Eric Cantor

ABC News' Jonathan Karl speaks with outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor about his shocking primary loss.
10:39 | 06/15/14

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Transcript for 'This Week': Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Now, our "Closer look" at a political shocker. A rising republican star's stunning primary loss to a long-shot tea party candidate, Eric Cantor is here for his first network interview since the votes were counted. But before we get to that, ABC's Jeff Zeleny on all of the fallout. Stunning upset in the Virginia republican primary race. The upset of the political year. Reporter: It stunned just about everyone. Including the man in the middle of it all. I know there are a lot of long faces here tonight and it's disappointing, sure. Reporter: How did Eric Cantor, who was at the table for nearly every big moment in Washington, lose his primary? Perhaps it's a mix of three reasons. First, did he lose touch with his district? That's what these voters said. He's up there, he's a Washington boy, he wasn't for our district. I haven't seen Cantor any place. He's too good to come around to see everybody. Reporter: Or did he get caught offguard? Dave brat, an economics professor, whose anti-washington message caught fire. He had a shoestring operation compared to Eric Cantor's gold-plated campaign. Brat's largest expense was $789 check to honey baked ham. When we met brat last month, he pulled up outside the capitol in his chevy. I tell the truth and I will be the voice of the people. Reporter: Or was Cantor's shocking loss about immigration. Cantor said it was time to find common ground. But brat took a hard line. Cantor's defeat makes republicans even more skittish about embracing immigration reform. In terms of dealing with issues like immigration, if Eric Cantor can branded that he's support amnesty. How can your party ever move forward on this issue? We don't know that's the issue. Reporter: Republicans will choose a new majority leader this week. Raising new questions about whether there's room for compromise under that big republican tent. I think that this town should be about trying to strike common ground. Reporter: For "This week," Jeff Zeleny, ABC news, capitol hill. Eric Cantor joins us right now. Let me ask you, your friend said that this was an earthquake that nobody thought you would lose. Watching you on election night, you certainly looked stunned. Did this completely shock you? Absolutely, Jonathan. I don't think anybody in the country thought the outcome would be what it was. And you know, I'm a believer, as I have said that night, and subsequently, that, you know, there are things that happen for a reason and we may not be able to really discern it now, and given the perspective of time I think we'll be able to look back at this, which seemed really bad at the time may turn out to be really good. Your pollster had you up 34 points, you paid him $75,000, are you expecting a refund, what happened there? I know a lot of people and a lot of polls are being done to dissect what happened. And you know, frankly, that's really not what I am focused on now. In fact, I want to take what I have been doing here and the experience and privilege I have had of representing the people of the 7th district of Virginia and be able to really look towards the future so I can really continue to promote and be a champion for the conservative cause. But you said the day after the election that you did everything you could, you really believe that? You lost by double digits. We ran a campaign premised on conservative solutions that help working middle-class families in the 7th district of Virginia. It's very much the same that we're trying to do here in Washington. You know, people are hurting right now. You know, you're saying that I certainly have had a personal setback, but that problem pales in comparison to the problems that working-class Americans are having every day. Some are out of a job. We got to be focused on how we, as conservatives, can help people that are suffering under this economy, under Obama's policies. This was a staggering turn of events for you. You know, you had been considered the next speaker of the house. You saw that in the headlines, Eric Cantor the next speaker? Had you done anything to prepare for a possible run against John Boehner for speaker of the house? No. You know, Jonathan, I have been really privileged to be the representative of the 7th district of Virginia for almost 14 years. I was also given the privilege of serving as majority leader by my colleagues. My focus every day was to shape an agenda to continue to put ideas out there that reflect our commonsense conservative solutions. We're going to have a moment in this country where we need actually to solve problems and stop the kind of lurch leftward that we're seeing. I believe we're getting ready for that. And as I go forward, I'll continue to find ways that I can be influential in making sure we continue that drive for solutions. So, there's been a lot of discussion about what happened, why you lost, one of your colleagues, republican colleagues in the house, Steve king, had this to say, in a tweet, election night, earthshaking primary results in Virginia tonight. Resounding rejection of amnesty and support for rule of law. Is that what this was? Was this is an earthshaking result, rejection of amnesty, of immigration reform? First of all, I don't think there's any one particular reason the outcome was what it was. If you think about it, there's a number of things that goes through voters' minds when they go into the voting booth. As far as immigration, my position never wavered. I'm not for a comprehensive amnesty bill. I have always said, we ought to deal with the kids that didn't break any laws. I have always said that. It's a principle positioned. One thing that offers the only plausible way forward. Now, did that infuriate folks on both sides? Sure. It's the position I think incremental informed approach to immigration reform is what we need. We need to focus on things we agree on. I have told the president this, my colleagues are well aware of it and my constituents were. Laura Ingraham went after you and in some deeply personal ways. I want to play some of her gloating after the election. Here's what she had to say. He wasn't coming clean on his real views on immigration. I think people understood that in the end. You know, laura. He came across as a phony. I'm sorry. He came across very two-faced on that issue. She even suggested that you should be traded to the Taliban, somewhat of a joke, did she cross the line? Do you blame her for the loss? Listen, I'm not into blaming anyone. But the suggestion that I should have been traded to the Taliban for sergeant bergdahl really is not a serious contribution to any public policy debate, and frankly, I don't think that it reflects on the people that self-identify as tea partyer. I think they reject that kind of notion. What do you say those groups claiming they represent the tea party, going after you, going after other republican leaders? Well, listen, there's a lot there's a lot of of frustration out there. I have seen it. Frustration against this president. There's a frustration against Washington, not being able to stop this president. There's frustration. And one of the things that, you know, I want to remember, tea party means taxed enough already, these are moms and dads grandmothers and grandfathers, that got into the political debate and process back in 2009 after the lurch leftward with the expansion of government, stimulus and the rest. Was your defeat a victory for the tea party? Listen, I think what we need to focus on, and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to do something about bridging this divide, there is a divide within our party, and I hope it's the way towards bridging that divide is through solutions. You know, we've got to demonstrate the conservative ideas through limited government, personal responsibility, creating more space in the private sector is the answer to so many working middle-class people's problems right now. Okay, so what is next for you? Do you see yourself ever running for office again? You know, Jonathan, I'm going to be talking to my wife a lot, we have had a wonderful relationship and married for almost 25 years, and she and I are going to make some decisions together about how we go forward. I don't want to close off any options right now. I'm just hope fl I can continue to be a champion for the kind of things we're working here in Washington. I believe in almost 23-plus years in public service that I can play a role and not just in an elected office but in the private sector. Would you rule out becoming a lobbyist? I don't think that I want to be a lobbyist. But I do want to play a role in the public debate. I have had a lot of experience, obviously, in the intersection of government, politics, issues affecting the global economy. So, again, I have been very gratified by the number of people who have reached out to me already. I think these are decisions that my wife and I will make. As I continue to want to serve out my term. All right, Eric, thank you very much for joining us.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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