Eric Cantor Quits As Majority Leader, Endorses Kevin McCarthy As Successor

Eric Cantor announced Wednesday that he is quitting as House Majority Leader after a shocking primary defeat that has swiftly shaken up the Republican Party.

“While I intend to serve out my term as a member of Congress in the 7th District of Virginia, effective July 31, I will be stepping down as majority leader,” Cantor told reporters at the Capitol, according to a Huffington Post report. “It is with great humility that I do so, knowing the tremendous honor it has been to hold this position.”

The Virginia Republican was once thought to be a lock for Speaker after John Boehner, but Tuesday’s result threw the GOP House leadership into question. Cantor weighed in on the scramble to succeed him, saying that “if my dear friend and colleague [Majority Whip] Kevin McCarthy does decide to run, I think he’d make an outstanding majority leader. I will be backing him with my full support.”

As rumors swirled earlier Wednesday, Washington Post reporter Robert Costa took to Twitter to track the fast-moving developments.

Costa also ran into former Republican Speaker and Illinois congressman Dennis Hastert at the Capitol, who offered a philosophical take on the nature of political life.

“Things change in this business,” Hastert told Costa. “One day you’re at the top, the next you’re saying goodbye to your staff.”

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) also threw his hat in the ring Wednesday, setting up a battle between two men who played major roles in 2010’s tea party wave. Sessions led the National Republican Congressional Committee that year, but McCarthy was responsible for recruiting the candidates that delivered a GOP majority.

While the upset has had clear ramifications for national politics, it might not be much of a bellwether. Vox’s Ezra Klein points to the surprise as largely a matter of turnout, noting that Cantor “was beaten by 36,000 of the roughly 65,000” voters in the Republican primary.

Klein reflected on that number:

Put that in context. Virginia’s 7th district has about 758,000 residents. In 2012, 381,000 of them voted in the congressional election. 223,000 of them voted for Eric Cantor.

Cantor’s loss last night came at the hands of about 5 percent of his constituents. It came at the hands of about 9 percent of the total number of people who voted in the district’s 2012 congressional election. It came at the hands of about 16 percent of the people who voted for Cantor in that election.

Nate Silver, meanwhile, described it as largely an outlier that doesn’t change the fact that such challenges are rarely successful.

But those reminders of context are of little solace to Cantor, who first came to Congress in 2001 and had steadily risen up the ranks since. While he shot down the idea of running as a write-in candidate in the general election, he sounded as if he had made at least some peace with Tuesday’s result.

“While I may have suffered a personal setback last night, I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of this country,” he said. “I’m honored that I’ve had the privilege of serving the people of Virginia’s 7th District.”

photo: Gage Skidmore