On Saturday, Tea Party activists ousted a top ally of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) from a key Virginia chairmanship in Cantor’s own district, underscoring discontent Cantor is facing from conservative activists at home.
Conservatives mobilized against Linwood Cobb – the powerful, incumbent 7th district GOP Chair who was working with Cantor’s top establishment consultants and political action committees to take power away from grassroots delegates – to elect Fred Gruber to the chairmanship.
The victory was surprising because Cantor’s district, in the state capital of Richmond, is home to much of the GOP establishment machinery that wards off such insurgencies.
Patrick McSweeney, a former Chair of the Republican Party of Virginia who helped organize the efforts along with others like Jamie Radtke and Russ Moulton, told Breitbart News that in a “contentious” convention, Tea Party conservatives “were joined by other disaffected people in the District in showing their disgust with the heavy-handed way the Cantor machine had been attempting to control the Party.”
The District Chair plays an important role in deciding whether Republican candidates in Virginia will be nominated in primaries or at conventions. Since nominating conventions favor conservatives, Virginia’s Republican establishment, led in part by Cantor, has been trying to control who is seated as a delegate to the conventions.
Although early iterations succeeded, the plan now appears to be backfiring, energizing the base instead on Saturday much to the chagrin of moderate former Lieutenant Gov. Bill Bolling, who said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed” to hear of the results.
“Clearly, there is a battle taking place for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. We are seeing this battle play out all across our state,” Bolling lamented before calling conservatives the “extreme voices” that seek “to control our party and determine its future direction.”
Bolling refused to support Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli after Cuccinelli bested him for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, undermining the Republican’s chances of winning the race in 2013.
Conservative activists say they have resented establishment Republicans like Bolling who preach “unity” only when their candidates win, and McSweeney said there “was also a longstanding resentment of the tactics of Cantor’s consultants” for similar reasons.
One of those consultants was Boyd Marcus, the former partner of Cantor hand Ray Allen who joined Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s campaign last year.
Local reports noted the anger at the Cantor machine and said the ouster was about the grassroots “finally having a seat at the table inside the Republican Party” in Virginia after Cantor and his lieutenants had been circling the wagons to “ensure as much control of the local politics surrounding him as possible.”
Part of that has to do with controlling the nominating process, and reports about the hostility toward Cantor also had to do “with a preference among many grassroots activists for nominating candidates via conventions rather than consultant-driven open primaries.”
“We’re not convinced that the fight over the nomination method going forward has been settled. We expect to have that fight next year and in 2016 and 2017,” McSweeney said. He noted that Ed Gillespie, who is running for Senate this year in what is possibly a trial run for a gubernatorial campaign in 2017, and Cantor “represent what remains of the old Bush machine in Virginia” and the “outcome yesterday will give Gillespie heartburn.”
Cantor also spent time at the convention attacking his primary opponent Dave Brat, whom Gruber, the new district Chair, supported.
“It is easy to sit in the rarified environs of academia, in the ivory towers of a college campus with no accountability and no consequence. When you throw stones, you throw stones at all of us who are working every day to make a difference,” Cantor said, according to the Washington Post.
Facing boos and heckles, Cantor appeared unsure of himself, attendees said.
“He shrank as a politician the longer he spoke. He obviously sensed the outcome of the vote about to be announced,” McSweeney said.
McSweeney said Saturday’s outcome has energized Brat’s supporters who outnumbered Cantor’s allies and has convinced doubters that a victory for Brat is at least still “plausible” in June if Brat can raise enough money and ride the momentum provided by Gruber’s win to his advantage.
He also said Saturday’s victory would have a long-term impact.
“The Tea Party and conservative insurgents now realize that they are no longer insurgents, but have prevailed,” McSweeney told Breitbart News. “They will make an effort to neutralize the impression that they are angry, negative people by urging the establishment folks to stay involved in working with the conservatives to build the Party. They will concentrate on pushing a positive policy agenda.”