An establishment US Republican Party politician secured a clear shot to become the US House of Representatives majority leader, but his likely ascent leaves the party’s ultra-conservative Tea Party wing out of the chamber’s top leadership jobs and fuming, as well as exposing deep fissures within the party.
House majority leader Eric Cantor suffered a stunning defeat to little-known college professor Dave Brat in the Virginia Republican primary, a race that underscored the rift within the party between establishment conservatives and further-right contenders pressing for no-compromise ideological stances.
Brat cast Cantor’s past positive comments about possible immigration changes as an “amnesty” for illegal immigrants — a characterization Cantor heatedly rejected — and turned it into a defining issue in the race.
Cantor said on Wednesday that he would step down as majority leader at the end of next month. He endorsed US Representative Kevin McCarthy as his successor. The No. 3 Republican in the House was set to take the No. 2 job in the House, after his sole rival — Texas Republican Pete Sessions — dropped his bid in the leadership fight on Thursday night.
Republicans sought to project an aura of unity, but failed to quiet conservative complaints that such quick party elections after Cantor’s defeat gave them little time to rally around an alternative who better reflects the right wing’s ideology and the emboldened Tea Party.
Votes are scheduled for Thursday next week for majority leader, the No. 2 job behind House Speaker John Boehner, and for majority whip, the No. 3 party post.
However, that may well not be the end of it. Several Republicans asserted that next week’s action would not quiet ambitious legislators or factions in the party caucus, and leadership contests after November’s US midterm elections could produce a brand-new lineup.
Cantor is the first House majority leader to lose his seat by being defeated in a party primary election since the post was created in 1899, according to Eric Ostermeier, research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.
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