Asked his reaction last night to the stunning primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, an Obama administration official offered this: "Who?" That's how quickly the White House has forgotten Cantor, a thorn in the president's side from day one. Don't let the door hit you on... well, you know the rest.
As the president famously reminded Cantor, "elections have consequences," a lesson the Virginia Republican surely knows this morning more than any other. But aside from his humiliating defeat — no sitting House majority leader has lost since 1899 — there is a silver lining: At least Cantor can now partake in the jobless benefits and food stamps that he fought so long and hard for.
But all jokes aside (Cantor is in no danger of going on food stamps, I assure you), the White House probably won't gain much from Cantor's loss. It's not like the seat is really in play now — the winner of the GOP primary, the Tea Partier Dave Brat, will be favored in Virginia's deep red 7th District. With his probable win in November, the House GOP could move even further to the right than it is now. It's hard to believe an uber-conservative like Cantor isn't right-wing enough for the GOP, but there you go.
So if you think Barack Obama has trouble dealing with House Republicans now, you haven't seen anything yet. Not only is the GOP favored to pick up an additional five to eight House seats in November — adding to its 233–199 majority (there are three current vacancies) — it could also pick up four to eight more Senate seats. A gain of six would give the Republicans a majority. Believe it or not, the next Congress could be even more obstructionist than it is now.
This in turn means the lame duck that all presidents eventually become will start quacking quite soon. Issues at the top of Obama's to-do list that Cantor had been working on, such as immigration, are probably dead for now. There was only a slim chance that the House would do much on immigration anyway, but now slim has been reduced to none.
Like him or not, Cantor was also seen as a gifted politician who straddled both wings of the House GOP — the establishment wing, led by Speaker John Boehner, and the fire-breathing young guns that swept into town in the wave election of 2010. His loss suggests the war within the Republican Party is far from over. The establishment group would prefer to at least talk to President Obama and look for common ground on key issues; the far right sees this as a waste of time. To them, there's no common ground to be had. Obama must be resisted — completely, on everything, and with no room for compromise.
And that's the new worry for the White House: that the last two and a half years of the Obama administration will be even tougher legislatively than ever before. It has been all downhill since 2010, when the Democrats lost Congress, and now it could get worse. For years the White House wished Eric Cantor would go away. His loss is yet another reminder to be careful about what you wish for.