Most political observers were caught flat-footed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's blowout defeat by upstart David Brat in the Virginia Republican primary. I was one of them. But I will gladly accept criticism for my lapse in punditry prowess in exchange for the freedom the Cantor debacle provides me to make clear a point I have been making for years.
The Washington D.C. political class of arrogant aides, out-of-touch consultants and dim-witted pollsters has been slowly destroying the Republican Party in America for years. This cottage industry of self-important slicksters is finally being stripped bare and left without its blue smoke and mirrors. And inside their small echo chamber, where the slicksters talk only to one another and believe citizens in "the rest of the country" are easily understood -- and easily fooled -- the money and the high-five compliments are endless.
Maybe the embarrassing butt-kicking that Cantor received will trigger a second thought in the minds of those politicians who treat the words of their own advisors, consultants and pollsters as divine dispensation.
This collection of political "experts" and high-and-mighty staffers needs to consider the consequences of their gross underestimation of the mood of their constituents, and of the manner in which they have been trying to reach out to them.
Let's start with the pollster in Cantor's race. I know him, and he's a nice guy. And given that my firm polls for news organizations and others, I know what it is like to miss a race or two. In fact, those of us who survey for news organizations are constantly being ranked, examined and critiqued. There are "experts" all over the place who will find ways to dismiss any innovative technology we use, criticize our methodology or say we "weighted" a survey incorrectly.
In fact, Cantor's pollster, in working for other candidates has, I believe, critiqued my work from time to time. I understand this, and at the same time, I always stand my ground. But in the case of Eric Cantor, this particular pollster produced a poll showing Cantor winning by some 34 points against what was thus considered a no-name "tea party" candidate. That means the poll, conducted in late May, was either off by some 40-plus percentage points versus the actual vote or the whole world turned upside down in Cantor's district in two weeks' time. I'll let readers come to their own conclusion.
But this poor pollster had no real effect on the greater cause of the Cantor meltdown. The real problem was that Cantor and what is described by many as a very haughty staff (imagine that in D.C.) began to believe that they truly were "national." You know, big deals that really did folks back home a favor by letting them be graced with the Majority Leader's (occasional) presence in their district.
The truth be known, Cantor and his advisers were caught up in their obsession game of cat-and-mouse in whether or not to stage a coup to topple Speaker John Boehner. Alternatively, they wrestled with how to help preserve Boehner's position, lest another member leapfrog over Cantor and become Speaker. As a result of all this, they really couldn't be too bothered with the folks back home and some local college professor opponent.
Yes the "tea party" movement is not dead in the GOP. But even with half the national tea party leaders taking credit for an upset defeat in which they played no part whatsoever, the real message from Eric Cantor's defeat can be found in how the candidate and his advisors lost touch with their voters.
And proof of that can be found in the resounding victory of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina over a half-dozen challengers in the GOP primary. Graham's politics have often drifted toward reaching across the partisan aisle. And on some "tea party" issues, he receives less-than-perfect scores.
But Graham never swallowed the story that he is bigger than the people who elect him. He has remained approachable to his constituents and has never come to believe that people from his state were simply "the masses" to somehow be placated on his road to power.
And, I might add, Lindsey Graham would have never believed a poll that had him 30-plus points ahead, at least not until the last vote had been counted and the poll proved right.