You knew Majority Leader Eric Cantor was vulnerable–the press had already reported a non-trivial Anybody But Cantor vote in his district. But I would have settled for his challenger, Dave Brat, getting more than 40%. I was all ready to (legitimately) spin that as a warning shot across Cantor’s bow. Instead, Brat went and actually beat Cantor–decisively, by 10 points, 55% to 45%. He and his campaign manager Zachary Werrell obviously ran a very effective race with minimal resources–against Cantor’s millions. Independent anti-Cantor actors like the We Deserve Better group — and various local conspiracies we don’t even know about — probably played a role as well.**
But the main issue in the race was immigration. It’s what Brat emphasized, and what his supporters in the right wing media (Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin) emphasized. It’s the charge Cantor defended against—by conceding the issue and posing as a staunch amnesty opponent.*** But Cantor had signed onto the GOP’s pro-amnesty “principles” and endorsed a poll-tested but irresponsibly sweeping amnesty for children (a “founding principle” of the country, he said). Brat opposed all this, even as illegal immigrant children were surging across the border in search of a Cantor-style deal.
Brat won this immigration debate. Cantor lost. It’s basically that simple. If Cantor had gotten the majority of votes, certainly the MSM would have spun the outcome as a defeat for “comprehensive immigration reform” opponents.
There’s only so much amnesty-salvaging spin the MSM has left. You can expect to hear, over the next few weeks, that Cantor was really a terrible candidate and maybe a horrible person. It’s amazing he got 44%! I don’t know about that. He somehow got to be Majority Leader. I do know that if he hadn’t embraced amnesty (for the “kids, specifically, and more generally with the GOP “principles,”) he would have won.
You’ll also hear that “Cantor’s loss only tells us about the views of the right-wing faction of the right-wing party in a heavily right-wing district.” But the comprehensivists and their MSM tools have been trying for two years to convince us that Republicans — even Tea Partiers — were really OK with legalization, even a “path to citizenship.” Only yesterday the NYT was pitching this case, without bothering to mention any skeptics. Turns out it’s BS. The more difficult point is that while the public may be roughly, inconclusively split on amnesty, the anti-amnesty voters have all the intensity while pro-amnesty voters tend to consider the issue not all that much of a priority. In a democracy, ties go to intensity. (Although the Senate’s Gang of 8 monstrosity wouldn’t survive a plebiscite either — it would be quickly picked apart.)
You’ll hear that the problem was mainly that Cantor was someone who would “talk out of both sides of their mouth” on amnesty–as if he’d have won if only he’d embraced it 100%. But show me a pro-amnesty Republican who doesn’t talk out of both sides of their mouth. That’s the comprehensivist game plan–fool the right wing by making lots of noise about (phony) border security provisions, about opposing a “special”path to citizenship, about imposing (fake) rigorous requirements, and then smuggle the amnesty by them. Brat’s election suggests they are harder to fool than that.
You’ll hear that there were all sorts of other issues–Obamacare, bailouts, the budget. Some of them may have played a small part, but there were fewer issue distractions here than in most political races. In the end, the candidates really argued about one thing.
A few other points:
a) If Cantor is replaced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the current GOP #3 — well, McCarthy may be another Cantoresque squish on amnesty. He was widely believed to (along with Cantor) be driving the attempt to get an immigration bill to a House-Senate conference by means of Rep. Denham’s trojan-horseish ENLIST Act.
b) More generally, you’ll hear that Cantor’s loss kills the possibility of amnesty this term. But amnesty was already dead. It’s been killed about 6 times. It’s a zombie. Maybe the 7th will do the job. But don’t expect the lobbyists who back it to give up. If they give up, their corporate clients might rethink their quest for an inexpensive immigrant work force and stop paying them. Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-roommate might have to look for a job. Reporters would have to find new beats. Meanwhile, Cantor still has seven months left in his term–and nothing to lose, now, if he comes out as a full-fledged amnesty supporter. Speaker John Boehner is still rumored to want to retire (note: better update that one) and still thinks amnesty can be his legacy. Stay paranoid.
c) What’s supposed to finally seal amnesty’s doom is Obama’s threatened executive order, either relaxing rules on deportations or, more sweepingly, adding new categories of illegal immigrants to his earlier de facto DACA amnesty for illegals who came here when they were 15 years old or younger. But maybe it’s time to reassess that CW as well. With illegal youth, spurred by the prospect of another DACA, flooding into Texas and creating a humanitarian crisis, can Obama really get away with a sweeping executive order that only adds to the incentives for illegal crossing? Maybe he could before but not now. Which mean he might not kill amnesty in August, as the CW expects. Which means the fight could easily extend into a lame duck session. Sorry.
**– Don’t forget the massive Kaus dark money contributions supporting Brat (a few hundred dollars, split between Brat’s campaign and the We Deserve Better PAC). Best money I’ve spent in a long time. Felt like “speech” to me.
***–In fact, thanks to Cantor’s anti-amnesty mailings, it’s plausible to argue that a vote for Brat was a vote against amnesty — and a vote for Cantor was a vote against amnesty too.