June 13, 2014

Rep. Eric Cantor's epic failure to win his GOP primary has spawned a new term synonymous with the unforeseen dethronement of a powerful politician.

Cantor, the House majority leader, not only lost his primary in Virginia's 7th District -- he lost by double digits to an almost totally unknown college professor, Dave Brat, who pilloried Cantor for catering to wealthy corporate interests and for neglecting his district while serving as the House's number-two Republican. Nearly everyone, including the congressman's own pollster, had considered him the safest of safe bets for re-election.

Given the cataclysmic nature of Cantor's defeat, we expect over time that "getting Cantored" will supplant the phrase "getting primaried," which represents the threat of an incumbent facing a primary challenger who deems his or her opponent to be insufficiently conservative. As tea party standard-bearer Sarah Palin told Fox News last year: "Those who can’t stand strong to defend our republic, to defend our Constitution—heck yeah, they should be primaried, otherwise we are going down."

Such usage has become highly dismaying to those who have faced such a situation. “When did ‘primary’ become a verb?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked one of us. “Good heavens, it used to be that a primary was a process; now it’s a verbal threat. It’s maddening."

Murkowski escaped Cantor's fate in one of the most unusual ways in political history. A moderate on some social issues, she lost in the 2010 GOP contest to tea party favorite Joe Miller. But with the slogan “Let’s Make History,” she decided to run in the general election as a write-in candidate and beat Miller by four percentage points.

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