Backed by their far-Right allies in the media, the organized nativist movement in the United States is still riding the waves of last week’s surprising defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.). While his loss to a little-known Tea Party contender blindsided many who were following Virginia’s primary, it has created space for anti-immigrant groups, including the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) to talk about something other than their repeated failures in this year’s Congressional Republican primaries.
Among the most striking failures is Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s victory over anti-immigrant contenders in South Carolina.
As anti-immigrant activists continued to pretend they aren’t losing ground in the primaries, Graham easily beat six Tea Party candidates who attacked him on his support for comprehensive immigration reform. His opponents slung familiar slurs his way, calling him a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) and reviving the nickname Lindsey “Grahamnesty.” But, in the end, the name-calling did nothing to change the outcome.
Unlike Cantor, Graham did not shy away from immigration in his campaign. Tea Party pundits slammed Cantor, just as they did with Graham, claiming that he was much more supportive of immigrant rights than he truly was. In typical Cantor fashion, he proved inconsistent, shying away from his perceived position on immigration and, as The Atlantic’s Molly Ball points out, distributing mailers bragging about his efforts to block reform in the House.
According to Graham, that’s where the soon-to-be former House Majority Leader went wrong.
“It would break my heart for my party to go down a road that we need not go,” Graham said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “Embrace rational, comprehensive immigration reform…and we’re back in the back in the ballgame. If we don’t adjust on this issue, our chances of survival as a party are very bleak.”
Among Graham’s challengers was State Sen. Lee Bright. He used this year to accuse the incumbent of being a “community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood,” after Graham’s diplomatic trip to Egypt. Bright has also been known to go on Islamophobic diatribes about Muslim immigrants, insisting that the U.S. could be admitting terrorists.
“We got to be careful about who we let into this country,” Bright said at a rally in February. “A lot of these folks from terrorist nations are coming in on student visas, and we shouldn’t allow it.”
Later in the speech, he referred to immigrants crossing the Southern border unlawfully as “an invasion” and claimed some of them might have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. No surprise, he also introduced an anti-Shariah bill in South Carolina this year.
Another of Graham’s opponents was also happy to campaign on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fear and paranoia. Bill Connor is also convinced that the government has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and fears that even the “legal side” of immigration may make the U.S. less American.
“If immigration is not controlled, countries do fall apart,” Connor said at the June 7 primary debate.
He added: “Our legal side is out of control. … People [who immigrate] have got to become American … We’re losing that as a people.”
Connor also signed onto FAIR’s anti-immigrant pledge that asked “Will you promise to protect American workers?” This was, perhaps, an effort to garner support from wherever he could find it. He could not have predicted that, so far, the pledge has done anything but help most of the other signees and others who aligned with FAIR.
His campaign was almost a cut-and-paste version of FAIR’s inhumane, anti-immigrant platform, and it got him nowhere.
Connor’s failure, along with others who signed FAIR’s pledge, should serve as a warning signal to others hoping ride the coattails of fearmongers. The anti-immigrant movement will likely continue to boast their defeat over Cantor in the run-up to the general election, but their selective memory and nativist opportunism should not be ignored.
Image source: Washington Post