On Tuesday night, a little-known college professor named David Brat (R) made history when he defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) in Virginia’s seventh district. He undid the political prospects of a man who was on track to become the first-ever Jewish Speaker of the House, and he did so with a 23-year old campaign manager, a shoestring staff and resources so limited that most seasoned political observers believed he had no chance.
Cantor should have cruised to victory. The campaign infrastructure was there, so was the money, and internal polling showed him running away with the win, though this race reminds us why relying on internal polling is akin to believing the weatherman speaks the absolute truth. As Leader Cantor bid the Washington press corps adieu and Cantor loyalists drowned their surprised sorrows amongst friends at the Tune Inn, Republicans asked themselves, “what now?” Rather than focus on the inner workings of the upcoming election for a new majority leader, or the seemingly sealed fate of legislation slated for this year, or the endless debate about the ideological makeup of the political right, we would do ourselves a big favor to focus on this one true fact - no candidate is inevitable.
As Cantor’s case reminds us, Hillary’s inevitable status does not mean that she will, in fact, become the Democratic nominee. In Virginia, the answer to why Eric Cantor lost lies within highly-localized political drama in his own backyard, and his perceived failure to continue to connect with his own constituents. In order to defeat Hillary, or any other Democrat in 2016, we have to dig deeper while successfully demonstrating that any candidate from the left has simply lost touch with American reality.
The rollout of Hillary’s book has provided Republicans with even more ways to demonstrate that she doesn’t connect with the average working American. She believes that being broke means struggling to pay the mortgage on two mansions. For most people, being broke means the embarrassment of putting precious food back at the grocery store checkout while explaining why to anxious children and avoiding the sneers of impatient shoppers behind us. We already know that she, unlike most moms, hasn’t driven a car in nearly two decades. It is now incredibly safe to say - Hillary Clinton, she’s just not like us, to borrow a phrase from the popular Us Weekly. The perception of elitism was enough to defeat a man who would have become a great American president in 2012, and it is a key component of ensuring that a candidate Clinton will have to give that same sad, remorseful, heart-wrenching speech to campaign staff in 2016.
Elitism alone is not enough. Republicans must unearth the fissures in the political left to create a climate in which a candidate Clinton has to fight for her political life just to make it through the primary, emerging with enough primary debate gaffes to make any lauded Republican ad maker giggle with glee. We must learn to do unto others as we do to ourselves, and discuss the divisions facing Democrats today. We’re so good at it when it comes to our own team. But no dreams of a White House turned Republican red in 2016 are furthered by continuing the tiresome and damaging discussion of the problems within our own party. We ourselves are responsible for the media’s obsession with the GOP civil war narrative, we just can’t seem to keep quiet about it. But this is family business, and it should stay that way. The 2014 primary election cycle demonstrates one thing very clearly - both the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican party are stronger than ever, and we’re getting better about finding candidates who meet enough criteria to appease both groups. To dive in to the vernacular, we’re learning to hug it out.
2016 is a different story. Hillary Clinton won’t be undone by an endless stream of press releases on her Benghazi failures, as wrong as that is on so many levels. What will send the Clintons back to upstate New York for good, is a successful effort to create a political climate so toxic for Democrats that the thought of pulling the level for Democrats in 2016 unthinkable for everyday Americans. The good news is, the tools are there for the taking, Republicans just have to use them with precision.
When all is said and done in 2014, Democrats will owe $100 million worth of gratitude to Tom Steyer, whose job-killing agenda is already unpopular with rural Democrats who feel abandoned by the Obama administration. Further, one of the most effective tools in the Republican shed to create chaos in the land of the liberal is the ongoing struggle between union workers and the Obama administration. Democrats have proven, time and time again, that they aren’t worthy of the union dues that funded their successful campaigns. As more and more workers decide to keep their cash by freeing themselves from the unproductive chains of union representation, it’s our job as Republicans to show them how we actually will work for the working class. They don’t even have to pay unions to elect us, we just need to tell them why they should pay us any attention.
These are only a few examples of Democrats divided, many others exist. It’s our job, as Republicans, to flesh them out. If we can do that, then we’ve learned our proper lesson from the close of Eric Cantor’s current chapter in Virginia and are well on our way to defeating Hillary the Inevitable in 2016.
Zelt is a Republican communications adviser, an alumni of the Republican National Committee and of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.