With Eric Cantor’s loss, the organized nativist movement and anti-immigrant pundits can boast that a Republican candidate has finally been defeated over immigration, albeit superficially—and their boasting will fail to address wins by Rep. Renee Ellmers and Sen. Lindsey Graham, both vocal proponents of immigration reform. This moment will also afford nativists a pause, not only to bask in the now-former House Majority Leader’s loss but to forget for a moment their flood of failures this primary season.
They’re hoping others will forget, as well.
Though immigration was a hot talking point in Cantor’s primary over the last month, some experts were quick to point out last night that his loss is far more complicated—especially in a district where only 12 percent turned out to vote.
Recent media focus on the number of unaccompanied minors being detained at our Southern border added a natural hook that Cantor’s opponent, David Brat, would’ve otherwise lacked. Also, hardliners Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and others ushered late attention to Brat’s campaign.
But, the facts are this: The Seventh District of Virginia is the only district in the country so far where a supposed pro-immigration reform stance by an incumbent has swung a Republican primary for a nativist challenger. (Cantor was never a true backer of reform.)
Dan Stein, head of the organized nativist movement’s flagship group the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), bemoaned his movement’s feckless challenges in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, suggesting that this was one of the low points of his career and that money was winning elections (duh).
But money didn’t matter in Cantor’s loss because Brat had none by comparison, and big money simply hasn’t lined up against pro-reform Republicans. On Monday, Stein had previously failed to explain to the WSJ why candidates that had signed FAIR’s anti-immigration reform pledge were almost all losing.
That in mind, even in the one Republican race where a stance on immigration reform mattered, Cantor the politician mattered equally.
Those who’ve followed his career know he was a woeful leader and the worst sort of politician—an arrogant panderer who viewed negotiations on The Hill and his leadership role similarly to how ratings firms viewed the housing bubble and leveraged debt prior to its collapse in 2008.
Exampling this, Cantor was a proud supporter of the NSA’s widely controversial practices who openly leveraged the American people for political gain. After an F5 tornado ravaged Joplin, Missouri, Cantor held up aid to its victims, forcing the issue into quasi-budget debate gridlock as he demanded relief funds be off-set by compromises on federal budget cuts.
While Cantor languished yesterday, though, Sen. Lindsey Graham resoundingly won his primary, facing down six Tea Party challengers who pounded the incumbent for his pro-immigration reform stance. Cantor, a notorious flip-flopper, paid dearly for reversing his vague support for immigration reform when pressured by far-Right media outlets and pundits rallying around Brat, who duly painted his opponent as a dishonest DC elite beholden to Wall Street and lobbyists.
So as the nativists pose for photos before their trophy, let’s not pretend their litany of electoral failures is now insignificant:
- The math regarding FAIR’s pledge campaign certainly doesn’t flatter or deceive. The pledge has been signed by only 75 of 1,908 candidates nationwide, and of the 49 races run, 38 candidates have lost with fewer than 6 winning and others pitted in run-offs.
- Rep. Renee Ellmers was heavily targeted by FAIR and NumbersUSA, who together with FAIR and Center for Immigration Studies leads the organized nativist movement. The groups repeatedly targeted the North Carolina incumbent in coalition with media allies at Breitbart News and elsewhere. NumbersUSA’s head, Roy Beck, even bragged to Politico, “She’s gotten an earful from our members in North Carolina for weeks now.” Ellmer’s walked to a 17-point victory in a deep Red district later that day.
- Katrina Pierson, who challenged incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions in Texas, aligned herself more closely with the organized nativist movement than perhaps any other Tea Party challenger, even appearing last summer alongside Sens. Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions, Beck and others at the rally of a FAIR front-group. Like Ellmers’ challenger, Frank Roche, Pierson saw no real voter momentum built from her anti-immigrant gamble. Sessions won by 25 points.
- Like it did with Ellmers, NumbersUSA vowed to see Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina defeated because of his support for reform. The group even made a $150,000 ad buy in Graham’s home state in 2013, but its ads rang so flat, the group failed to purchase any this year.
- After a year of powerful Tea Party groups and the aforementioned nativist groups targeting him over immigration, Speaker Boehner faced a Tea Party challenge but won his primary with nearly 70% of the vote.
But don’t take my word alone regarding Cantor’s loss. Erick Erickson, Ann Coulter’s boss over at RedState Magazine, took to Twitter just as the race was called:
“Dear Media: you will make the Cantor loss all about immigration. You will be wrong. But it will be useful to us. So thanks.”
Aaron P. Flanagan is the Director of Research at the Center for New Community.
Image source: Wikipedia Commons/Gage Skidmore