Cheesy Kabuki — Panicked Cantor Claims He’s Anti-Amnesty Champion: Now we know how embattled GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor plans to hold on to his seat against a primary challenger. A week after lobbyist Haley Barbour praised
Cantor** the House GOP leadership’s team for its commitment to passing an immigration amnesty — and claimed that Republican voters support it — Cantor dropped a mailer into GOP voters’ boxes claiming that he’s … a fighter against amnesty! (“CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN ERIC CANTOR IS STOPPING THE OBAMA REID PLAN TO GIVE ILLEGAL ALIENS AMNESTY”).
There’s nothing subtle about what’s going on here. Cantor clearly favors some form of immigration amnesty–maybe not the Senate’s massive bill, which even amnesty advocates concede is dead, but a sweeping legalization of the undocumented population. He has said he’s “committed” to immigration reform and he’s one of the few Republicans who endorsed John Boehner’s so-called immigration “principles,” the last of which is legalization (“these persons could live legally and without fear in the U.S.”). He’s been writing his own version of the DREAM Act, legitimizing young undocumented immigrants–as recently as last week he said that bill was “still under discussion.” He supports Rep. Denham’s so-called ENLIST Act--a limited measure significant mainly because it would act as a Trojan Horse giving Reid’s Senate a chance to insert a much larger amnesty in “conference” with the House. Cantor was the behind-the-scenes driver of the attempt to attach ENLIST to a must-pass defense authorization bill.
When Barbour–a former RNC chair who now personifies the business lobbyists’ well-funded push for legalization and more immigrants–praised Cantor’s underlying commitment to his cause, he was only voicing what Hill observers already knew.**
But Cantor’s primary loyalty is to Cantor. (Does anyone think he passionately cares one way or another about immigration?) He’s never been overwhelmingly popular in his district, and he’s now facing a serious primary challenge from economist Dave Brat, who’s bashing him (accurately) as soft on amnesty. Part 1 of Cantor’s reelection plan has been a sleazy negative TV hit on Brat as “liberal” for serving on an obscure economic-forecasting board under a Democratic as well as a Republican governor. (That service makes me think better of Brat–he’s not some flake who just walked in off the street, though at this point I’d take a flake off the street.*** Part II of the plan is the attempt to convince primary voters that Cantor is a valiant foe of amnesty — even though the reality of his role in Congress is pretty much the opposite (i.e., trying to smuggle amnesty through the Republican caucus).
I thought it was weird when, a few weeks ago, Cantor put out an angry press release attacking Obama on immigration after what appeared to have been a pleasant phone call with the President. Cantor couldn’t be staging this fake fit in order to use it later in the campaign, could he? That would be too Kabuki! But, sure enough, Cantor’s new mailer cites the April phone call incident — even referring to Talking Points Memo‘s report on his press release. (“Cantor Torches Immigration Reform After Call With Obama.”) Tough guy–stands up to the President
to his face in a sharply worded post-event memo.
OK, maybe there are some subtle things going on here, in the Kabuki space. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the Dems’ most flamboyant pro-amnesty crusader, has announced plans to hold a pro-legalization event in Cantor’s Richmond, Virginia ‘backyard’ tomorrow. This comes after other amnesty advocates decided to denounce Cantor by name as “the No. 1 guy standing between the American people and immigration reform.” It sure looks like Gutierrez (who has, after all, gone on tour with Cantor in support of immigration reform) and his allies realize that a shocking Cantor primary defeat would effectively kill off amnesty this year. So they’ve gone into action to help their friend win by setting him up as an anti-amnesty giant — a message that conveniently dovetails with Cantor’s mailer. It’s almost as if they have meetings to plan these things!
Brat might respond to Cantor’s cynical disingenuous posing by demanding that he renounce Boehner’s “principles,” pledging to block all legalization bills for the duration of his term. Brat also desperately needs to raise money to put out some mailers of his own. You can help him here. [Appearance of impartiality?-ed Praxis, praxis, praxis]
**– CORRECTION: The video of the event at which Barbour spoke has now been released. Barbour praises “Boehner and his team” for working to pass immigration reform but doesn’t say Cantor’s name. At one point the interviewer (Steven Clemons) says “with Boehner and Cantor you got two votes,” and Barbour doesn’t quibble with that. (He quibbles on other grounds.)
***– Cantor has now dropped another anti-Brat TV hit. Sign of confidence!