The Republican congressional leadership has been thrown into disarray by the shock defeat of its second highest ranked office holder, Eric Cantor, to a barely known Tea Party backed insurgent in a primary race.
Mr Cantor, a representative of Virginia, is the sitting House Majority Leader and was expected to breeze through this primary challenge to eventually take over as Speaker of the House from John Boehner.
Instead his career was snuffed out by an obscure right-wing economics college professor named David Brat, who professes a high regard for Ayn Rand’s case for human freedom and free markets, according to a profile by the National Review.
“Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment,” L. Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, a conservative group that targeted Mr Cantor throughout the primary told the Washington Post. “The grassroots is in revolt and marching.”
Mr Cantor became the first House Majority Leader ever to lose a primary.
The victory is ominous for the Republican Party establishment as it suggests the insurgent Tea Party may continue winning primary competitions leaving it with ferociously conservative candidates who fail at general elections.
Just hours before Mr Brat was declared the winner the Washington Post reported confidently, “The question in this race is how large Cantor’s margin of victory will be.” An internal Cantor campaign poll taken last month had him leading Mr Brat by 62 per cent to 28 per cent.
In the last weeks of the campaign Mr Cantor massively outspent Mr Brat, but the challenger was able to marshal support from high-profile media support from the far right, including the arch-conservative radio hosts Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, for his hard line on immigration.
Mr Brat’s campaign accused Mr Cantor of being open to the idea of creating a legal path to citizenship for America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. Mr Cantor denied the charge but the criticism appears to have stuck.
Chaos erupted at Mr Cantor's election headquarters after the candidate left the building without taking questions from reporters. Immigration reform activists then stormed the ballroom, waving an American flag and chanting slogans before police arrived and asked them to leave.
This is further cause for concern for the Party’s establishment who fear that it will be unable to win the 2016 presidential election unless passes immigration reform. Indeed earlier on Tuesday the leading Republican senator and former presidential candidate John McCain said any candidate the Republican Party chooses will lose the 2016 presidential election unless the party had passed immigration reform.
The victory was a further shock to the GOP establishment because throughout the primary season for the November mid-term elections it had been successfully beating back Tea Party-backed candidates.
In another of Tuesday’s primaries the Republican Party’s leader in the Senate, Lindsay Graham – a favourite target of the far right - defeated a Tea Party challenger. In celebrating he told The Atlantic magazine, "I'm trying to tell the Tea Party, I understand your frustration, but being frustrated is not enough… I know Washington is broken, but what's broken about it is everybody yelling and nobody trying to fix it. I'm trying."