Opinion about Eric Cantor

When I first saw the headline stating that Eric Cantor lost the Republican primary in Virginia, my jaw dropped to the floor, just like the rest of the politicos out there. The after-effect for the political media was obviously a state of shock…and excitement! Grandiose conclusions and predictions were announced, all due to the majority leader of the House’s loss in the seventh district of Virginia. I found the reaction of the media to Cantor more interesting than the actual primary results. I also found their conclusions rather disturbing, especially concerning immigration reform.

Immigration reform is dead. Since Dave Brat made it the centerpiece of a campaign commercial and several public speeches, we can assume that the reason he won had everything to do with immigration reform. The voters of Virginia have spoken, and since Cantor’s loss is such a surprise to the political media, they have ascertained that the opinion of the nation on immigration has been decided entirely by about 60,000 GOP voters, from a state that doesn’t border Mexico (or Canada for that matter).

This is absurd. The voters of the primary were also polled on their opinion of immigration reform, and the results indicate that Virginia is quite concerned about passing immigration reform. It’s quite possible that Cantor’s loss had less to do with immigration reform and more to do with Cantor ignoring his district, overstaying his welcome, and creating general dissatisfaction with his role in Congress among the voters of the state of Virginia. Even David Brat seemed surprised that he had won the primary. I’d wager that even he did not initially think his victory was because of his platform on immigration reform.

I would suggest this is because the political media puts too much of a priority on the impact of their own medium. The power of the political commercial has become the cornerstone of how politicians are elected, according to the politicians themselves and the talking heads and writing pens that follow politics. The electorate might not be entirely swayed one way or the other because of a commercial. If there was one satisfaction I took from the 2012 Presidential election—the first to occur under the free-spending auspices of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision—it was that the enormous amount of money that Republicans spent on political commercials did not make a dent in the result. Karl Rove’s infamous public implosion on Fox News might have occurred because he was on the hook for spending a lot of GOP contributors’ money on fruitless TV commercials…if I knew I had to go back to my wealthy donors and explain how millions of dollars were spent without the desired result, then I suppose I would demand somebody double-check to make sure that the results were reported correctly also.

Another failure of the political process seems to be an over-reliance on opinion polling. Cantor commissioned the McLaughlin Group to poll potential voters, and the results had Cantor winning by a large margin. Mind you, one of the cornerstones of statistical polling is that one should employ a large enough sample to generate reliable numbers. The McLaughlin Group polled 400 people in their report. I hope Cantor kept his receipt for that costly expenditure.

I’ve taken three ideas away from the Cantor loss. First, Republicans might not sweep the mid-term elections and control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as many pundits have already predicted. Second, I’m less willing to buy the conclusions of political experts when they are so quick to the punch to declare a much-needed reform for immigration policy as “dead,” mostly because they have to create a stunning article to coincide with such a large political loss. Third, the political media might not have been caught with their pants down if they focused less on sensationalistic political stories and more on exposition and analysis of individual state districts, the elected members of the House and Senate, and the voters that make up the fifty states of America. This is difficult journalism, for sure, and ratings may plummet because it is assumed people become bored of politics quickly, but there could be a benefit to an American populace that is mostly unaware of the political landscape. This final statement might have less to do with Cantor and more to do with journalism generally: Let us remember that good, ethical journalism, especially concerning politics, should be more about education for the people, not entertainment-laden subjects to garner ratings.

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Scott C. Guffey
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