Battered Obama on ropes after Tea Party triumph
Published 12/06/2014 | 02:30
President Barack Obama's few remaining hopes of finding compromise with Republicans were in tatters yesterday after the Tea Party claimed a stunning victory over the party's more moderate leadership.
In one of the greatest upsets in recent US political history, Eric Cantor, the deputy Republican leader in Congress, was defeated by a little-known conservative academic in a Virginia Republican primary. The result is a stark reminder of the Tea Party's power and its determination to defeat even conservative Republicans if they are seen as making any concessions to the White House.
Republican leaders are now unlikely to take the political risk of any negotiations with Mr Obama, effectively dooming the prospects of new laws to reform America's immigration system or to deal with the deficit.
Mr Obama's political fortunes are tied to the Republican leadership's as the ongoing standoff with Congress fuels claims he is entering the "lame duck" phase of his presidency.
"The message to us is that negotiations or compromise can get you beat," said Congressman Lee Terry, a Republican from Nebraska.
Mr Cantor, one of the most powerful Republicans in the country, was defeated in his Virginia primary election by David Brat, a right-wing academic.
The political class in Washington universally predicted Mr Cantor would coast to victory and was stunned when he lost by more than 10pc.
Never before has the Tea Party succeeded in taking the scalp of a figure as prominent Mr Cantor, who was widely predicted to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives. Yesterday he announced he was resigning from the Republican leadership.
The result is a major blow to the party's elite, which had hoped to use this year's primary elections across the country to face down the Tea Party activists.
So far this year, the establishment wing of the party appeared to have the upper hand, as its more moderate candidates – backed by money from big business – fended off challengers from further Right. But the idea that the establishment was winning the party's civil war was completely upended by Mr Cantor's defeat.
"Eric Cantor's loss is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment," said Brent Bozell, a conservative activist.
Much of the conservative anger focused on the issue of immigration. Mr Cantor's opponent accused him of supporting an "amnesty" for illegal immigrants and whipped up conservative activists into a rage against him.
In reality, Mr Cantor took a hard line against immigration and was attacked by Democrats for blocking reform laws.
Hillary Clinton described him as "a candidate who basically ran against immigrants". But his rhetoric was not enough to satisfy the Right of his party.
The result in Richmond, the capital of Virginia, was closely watched by Mr Obama's aides in Washington as they try to chart a course for the president's remaining two and a half years in office.
Mr Cantor's defeat will confirm the White House's belief there is no point trying to engage with a Republican Party in which Right-wing activists hold so much sway, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Centre for Politics.
Frustrated with Republican opposition in Congress, the White House has adopted what it calls "a pen and phone" strategy, where Mr Obama uses his executive power to push his agenda forward rather than try to pass legislation.
In recent months, the White House has unilaterally announced new regulations on guns, climate change and student debt without going through Congress. However, major issues such as immigration and the deficit can only be tackled by cooperation between Congress and the White House and will likely remain unresolved until a new president takes office in 2017.
Between now and then Mr Obama is likely to issue more executive orders and focus on foreign policy, an area where the president has more authority to act without Congress. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)