The unprecedented primary defeat of the Republican majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, will embolden activists who are urging the GOP to attract Latino votes via a populist, high-wage strategy.
“It does strengthen the reform conservatives,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
“Reform conservatives can say, ‘We do have to reach out to Hispanics, but the way to do it is with a pro-worker, pro-middle class agenda that will appeal to all voters,’” not with an immigration-boosting strategy that helps ethnic lobbies and employers, he said.
Eric Cantor “would be the next speaker of the House if [he had told President Barack Obama] ‘No, Mr. President, I’m going to fight for Americans and their wages, against your immigration bill and the corporations who are pushing it,’” said a Hill aide.
The winner, Dave Brat, a college professor, hammered Cantor on that charge during the election and touted it in his victory speech.
“The Republican Party has been paying way too much attention to Wall Street and not enough to Main Street,” he declared to a district where the primary voters leaned three-to-one against amnesty. Nationally, swing-voters strongly oppose amnesty and companies’ use of guest-workers, despite the expenditure of more than $1 billion by business and progressive groups since 2007.
Cantor raised $5 million for the race, but won only 44 percent of the vote. Brat raised under $250,000 and won 56 percent of the vote.
Brat’s victory likely killed President Barack Obama’s effort to double the annual inflow of immigrants and guest workers up to 4 million, said observers. That’s roughly equal to the number of Americans who turn 18 each year.
“Cantor’s loss likely means no way immigration reform proceeds this summer, ” said Ari Fleischer, a GOP consultant who worked with party leaders to tout an immigration boosting bill after the 2012 presidential loss. “Rank and file, already uneasy, won’t go for it,” he added.
“The Republican establishment doesn’t know what hit it,” said Krikorian. “They figured that with enough money [from pro-immigration donors] they could dupe the voters into allowing amnesty, and in the 7th district of Virginia, that’s not the case,” he said.
But some advocates in the immigration-boosting alliance of progressives, lobbyists and employers are dismissing the shocking result, by pointing to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s comfortable win in his crowded S.C. primary.
“Cantor’s problem wasn’t his position on immigration reform,” said Dan Pfeiffer, one of Obama’s top White House aides. “It was his lack of a position. Graham wrote and passed a bill and is winning big,” Pfeiffer tweeted.
“Cantor lost because of Cantor [but] candidates that led on #immigration, like Lindsey Graham, won comfortably,” claimed the National Immigration Forum.
Graham won only about 60 percent of the votes in his primary.
Cantor’s allies on the pro-immigration side also blamed him for the loss. “So Lindsey Graham wins big and Eric Cantor loses? Crazy night. Just remember one was pro-#immigration reform one was not,” tweeted Philip Wolgin, a senior immigration policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.
Other immigration-boosters complained about Virginia’s voters. Jorge Ramos, the immigration-boosting anchor at the Spanish-language Univision network, lamented the loss, but made sure to kick Cantor on his way out the door. “Even Cantor with an anti-immigrant position lost for not being extreme enough,” he said.
“Note to media. Eric Cantor did not lose because of immigration…His party has gone nuts!” complained Gary Segura, a Democratic-affiliated Latino pollster.
Advocates from the GOP’s business wing jumped in to minimize the damage to their push for more immigration. “Some media reading Cantor defeat as all about immigration,” tweeted Ana Navarro, an immigration-boosting GOP consultant aligned with the party’s business wing. “Huh? He wasn’t for immigration. He wasn’t against it. He was on undefined fence.”
“Voters don’t like wishy-washy. L Graham is going to crush HIS race,” she declared.
But Cantor’s defeat was cheered by populist advocates. “There’s no amount of money that can help you if you don’t focus on wages for working Americans,” said one Brat advocate. “If you want to win elections, you run on wages, living conditions and job,” he said.
In the last week before the election, Cantor urged that foreign children who are smuggled into the United State by their parents should be rewarded with citizenship.
Over the last year, Cantor had also called for laws that would allow companies to hire more foreign workers in place of Americans.
“Prof. Brat’s insistence that immigration policies should focus on the needs of American workers and taxpayers provided a sharp contrast to the corporate-driven vision of the top echelon of the Republican Party that Rep. Cantor exemplified,” said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA.
Cantor “was anti-law, pro-anything-for-buck big business. And now he is gone. So is amnesty-again push for several years,” tweeted D.A. King, founder of an immigration reform group in Georgia, the Dustin Inman Society.
“Like asking Santa for a model car & finding Corvette under tree! “ he declared.
Since last year, public opinion — and especially opinion among GOP-friendly voters — has moved steadily against the immigration increases sought by progressives.
A new June 1 Washington Post poll of 1,002 adults showed that 35 percent of adults, 59 percent of conservatives, and 27 percent of “moderate” adults “strongly” oppose Obama’s immigration policies, despite the almost-uniformly complimentary press coverage.
In contrast, only 17 percent of adults, 15 percent of moderates, and 11 percent of conservatives strongly support his rarely explained policies, the poll reported.
That’s significantly lower than in February 2013, when D.C. elites were united in declaring that Republicans have to endorse an amnesty or else see perpetual reruns of Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat.
A CNN poll taken over the same period shows that 61 percent of adults oppose Obama’s immigration policies, while only 35 percent support them. Back in April 2013, a mere 50 percent of adults opposed his policies.
Obama’s immigration-boosting policies are opposed by 66 percent of adults without college degrees, 67 percent of political independents, 58 percent of adults in the mid-west, 63 percent of people who earn less than $50,000 a year, 54 percent of younger voters, 55 percent of women, 45 percent of non-whites and 57 percent of adults in suburbia, according to the CNN poll. But his policies are supported by 28 percent of independents, 39 percent of women, 38 percent of college grads and 40 percent of urban adults, said the poll.