On Cantor's defeat, Obama's foreign policy debacle and old-school basketball [Commentary]

Item: Washington is abuzz with the shocking defeat of House majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary. David Brat, a tea party-inspired college professor with little money but plenty of energy, pulled off the historic upset.

Most of the mainstream media coverage focused on Mr. Cantor's support (albeit tepid) for a set of immigration reform principles that some on the right interpreted as "amnesty"— and that such support was the primary cause of his loss at the hands of an unknown, underfunded candidate.


Yet every other incumbent Republican who has signaled an openness toward reform legislation has won his primary this cycle. And if Mr. Cantor was seen as so soft on immigration, why did Politico (a popular Capitol Hill political daily) write a story on the day of the primary about an aggressive White House sponsored campaign to educate and punish Mr. Cantor due to his alleged opposition to comprehensive reform?

My numerous discussions with former colleagues reflect another (under the radar) reason for the majority leader's demise: the familiar and always effective "he's gone Washington on us" indictment. It is a charge easily made against leadership types in both parties. Recall House Speaker Tom Foley and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle losing re-election bids on identical grounds while Senate leaders Bob Dole and Bill Frist faced similar obstacles in their respective presidential bids.


The dilemma is easy to understand. Speakers and majority leaders must keep the legislative trains running on time, negotiate a variety of thorny issues with opposing leaders, travel and raise money on behalf of their fellow colleagues (and viable challengers), and fulfill their legislative obligations as members of Congress. Notice this demanding schedule offers little time to attend local Little League parades, road openings and volunteer fire department dinners — places where elected officials are able to be seen while interacting with voters. And it is here where too many missed public opportunities "back home" can result in an embarrassing loss. The bottom line: Even in the age of social media and instant electronic communication, spending time tending to the home flock counts.

Item: Remember when President Barack Obama assured a concerned electorate that "al-Qaida was on the run" during a hotly contested re-election campaign? Such rhetoric represented welcome assurance for a war weary people. And, after all, Osama Bin Laden had been taken down by Seal Team Six, and an aggressive drone campaign was killing high ranking terrorists at an impressive rate.

Fast forward 18 months. Extremists in Nigeria have kidnapped and held hostage 300 young school girls, a third of Iraq has fallen to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (an army of killers too violent for al-Qaida), the Taliban and related jihadist groups are resurgent in Afghanistan, drone strikes are down but the number of jihadist fighters worldwide has more than doubled, and now the U.S. looks to the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world, Iran, for support in stopping ISIS's murderous campaign against Shiite Iraqis and the further destabilization of Iraq.

Mr. Obama's campaign statement was untrue when originally uttered. Today, it's merely further evidence of seriously flawed foreign policy assumptions from a White House far better at the art of campaigning than governing.

Item: My new favorite NBA player is San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. And it's not for the 22-year-old's leaping ability, his feathery jump shot, his defense against Lebron James during the playoffs, his excellent ball handling skills or his remarkable dedication to improving his game. It's not even due to the resiliency he developed following the still unsolved murder of his dad at the Compton, Calif. car wash he owned.

These attributes are compelling, of course. But my admiration stems from the way he conducts himself on and off the court. The kid is all old school. You never see an "it's all about me" chest thump or a crowd glare, or even much of a smile after a big play. In fact, the man is downright dull. A terrible interview; mostly cliches about all 13 guys working together toward a common goal. Oh, and plenty of respect for the opponent. Mostly, he reflects the handling of success and failure with the exact same quotient of personal class.

Flashback question: What did Johnny Unitas do immediately after Alan Ameche scored the most famous touchdown in pro football history — the winning score in "The Greatest Game Ever Played"? Answer: He just turned and walked away. Betcha Kawhi Leonard would have done the same…

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is


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