Mark Mardell: Virginia Tea Party victory a harbinger

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor appeared in Richmond, Virginia, on 10 June 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated by Tea Party challenger David Brat

What Mark Twain really said was, "It has been reported that I was seriously ill - it was another man; dying - it was another man; dead - the other man again."

So, as I have been saying for many months, the death of the Tea Party has been exaggerated by those who rather hoped it was staggering towards extinction.

The truth is the Republican Party is engaged in a bitter civil war.

Just because the establishment has started fighting back doesn't mean it has won.

The defeat of the second-most-important Republican in the House at their hands is being variously described as an "apocalyptic moment" and "an earthquake".

I am not sure the Earth has moved for me, but it will make senior Republicans worry they are still on shaky ground.

The victory of the apparently underfunded and little known Prof David Brat will send a message.

Although Mr Cantor often positioned himself alongside the Tea Party - and is one of the most conservative of Republican leaders in Congress - he was still vulnerable.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Economics professor David Brat will square off against the Democratic Party nominee in this fall's general election

Mr Brat suggested that Mr Cantor had sold out on immigration reform, making it less likely Republicans will touch this vital but hot button issue.

His website features as its most prominent picture a shot of Mr Cantor talking to President Barack Obama. Just imagine what a man who can talk, openly, in public, to Mr Obama might do.

Deals? No-one expected deals this side of the election. There may not be many on the other side either.

There may well turn out to be special factors. The Tea Party were sore that the establishment hadn't worked hard enough for their candidate for Virginia governor, and that might have given them the impetus to push for this.

Friends say Mr Cantor had been away from Virginia selflessly campaigning for other Republicans.

Perhaps. But the truth is the Tea Party are a force to be reckoned with still.

They've pushed their party to the right, dominated its council for years, and they won't go away after the mid-terms in November.

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