June 11, 2014

Thoughts On The Cantor Loss

I spent part of my youth in the district represented by Eric Cantor, so I have long followed what goes on there. He was even one of my personal preferences for the GOP vice presidential nomination in 2012. I was therefore not shocked, though somewhat surprised, by his defeat in yesterday's primary.

In one of the most stunning primary election upsets in congressional history, the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, was soundly defeated on Tuesday by a Tea Party-backed economics professor who had hammered him for being insufficiently conservative.

The result delivered a major jolt to the Republican Party Mr. Cantor had widely been considered the top candidate to succeed Speaker John A. Boehner and it has the potential to change both the debate in Washington on immigration and, possibly, the midterm elections.

With just over $200,000, David Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., toppled Mr. Cantor, repeatedly criticizing him for being soft on immigration and contending that he supported what critics call amnesty for immigrants in the country illegally.

A few things that need to be said about this.

First, I don't know that this is a true reflection of the views of voters generally on any issue. Remember, only a handful of voters actually turn out in primary elections, and while they may represent the party base, their views are not the same as the average voter who turns out on the day of the general election. So I don't know that we can really say that the American people have rejected any position taken by Cantor. Yes, turnout was up this year -- but primary voters are still different.

Second, despite the efforts of some to make Cantor's defeat a referendum on his religion, I profoundly disagree with that. Cantor's religion was not made an issue by anyone during the primary. Indeed, the only time it was an issue is when the Democrat National Committee raised it a few years ago.

So when it comes down to it, this is ultimately about immigration and amnesty. Cantor was a leader on the issue, and was especially supportive of getting some sort of DREAM Act through Congress with the support of the GOP. My guess is that his defeat dooms such an outcome and will put the ball squarely in Barack Obama's court -- meaning he will be issuing more executive orders that say "American Law and the people's elected representatives be damned -- I'm Obama, and I make the laws."

But then again, it may well be that Obama's failed immigration policies and the executive orders creating them are the reason for his defeat. The surge of illegal immigrant children, unaccompanied by any adult, is the direct result of Obama's efforts to give such young people some sort of legal status. When we are facing nearly a quarter of a million of these young people entering the country over the space of two years --a long with other folks illegally jumping the border -- you have a crisis that turns even sympathetic Republicans against those policies. And with the amount of recent press coverage about how this proposed policy is increasing the flow of illegals to America and the burden being placed upon our government resources, is it any wonder that the GOP candidate who is most closely identified with the amnesty policy creating the problem would be defeated by an opponent who made opposition to that policy a centerpiece of his campaign?

Of course, this does throw the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives into turmoil. Cantor is resigning his leadership spot at the end of July. Many Republicans have questioned the long-term viability of John Boehner as Speaker of the House -- and will the defeat of his heir apparent hasten his departure or will it instead strengthen him in that spot. Part of the answer will depend upon who Cantor's successor is, I suppose.

So let's be clear here -- there is no underestimating the importance of the defeat of Eric Cantor.

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