Ezra Klein at Vox rattled off a handy list of 11 lessons to be learned from Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in Virginia last night. It’s a smart list and seems to have some applications in Arkansas.
“Republicans” are not the same as “Republican primary voters.” In 2012, Eric Cantor won the general election with more than 220,000 votes. Tonight, Brat beat him with about 36,000 votes. It’s possible and even likely that the vast majority of Republicans in Virginia’s 7th District liked Cantor just fine. But primaries only count the people who come out to vote.
In Arkansas, “Republicans” are not the same as the conservative-leaning electorate that will decide the general election. Is Arkansas ready to elect a pure Tea Party candidate in the general election? In select legislative districts, maybe. In a statewide election? I don’t think so. That, I think, is why Asa Hutchinson is performing better than Tom Cotton in polling. Cotton is nothing if not true to his extremist views. Hutchinson is just about as extreme but managed to finesse it to preserve his general election appeal, even in a primary with some wackjobs.
The Republican Party has a serious data problem. In 2012, Mitt Romney’s internal polls were garbage. This year, Eric Cantor’s internal polls showed him up by more than 30 points. Something is deeply wrong with the GOP’s campaign infrastructure if the party’s presidential nominee and the party’s House majority leader can’t rely on their pollsters.
Remember the Arkansas Republican polling that said they’d have 60-plus seats in the House in 2012 and an even bigger margin than they won in the Senate? This is why I take all internal Republican polling with even more salt than you should apply to ALL internal polling. Is the Cotton internal poll showing him with a commanding lead really right and ALL the other nonpartisan polling wrong? I doubt it.
Some on the left are envious of the Tea Party’s success at cowing Republicans. “The Left endorsed Cuomo; the Right successfully primaried the sitting House Majority Leader = how the country keeps moving to the right,” tweeted Max Berger. Others voiced similar sentiments. But this isn’t how the country keeps moving right. This is how the country keeps moving left.
This is the Republican myopia that plays out so often in Arkansas. Take Jason Rapert. Please. He may indeed be unassailable in his own district with his brush arbor fundamentalism and demonization of the “others” among us. But his hatred of Barack Obama and those who support him blinds him to the empirical absolutism of two big majority victories for the object of his ire. If his party continues to demonize immigrants, gays, poor people, minorities and liberals, it may win the Arkansas legislature but it won’t win the presidency. “We the People” will cheer Madame President Clinton.
By the way, I’m not sure the anti-immigrant fervor that propelled Cantor’s opponent in a whitebread district applies the same in Arkansas. Gov. Mike Beebe’s disappointing unwillingness to lead on immigration is probably a good indicator that it remains the safe political road, but I don’t think it’s nearly so toxic to be compassionate here. See Mike Huckabee.
PS — This pollling in Cantor’s district shows overwhelming support for immigration reform. But only a narrow, very motivated slice of the district voted in Republican primary. Also, voters in the district just don’t like Cantor much.