Hey Republicans: If You Reduce Cantor's Loss to Immigration Reform, You Will Keep Losing


As Peter Suderman pointed out yesterday, one of the major fauxplanations for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning primary loss to David Brat is that Cantor was "soft" on immigration. Exactly what that means is anybody's guess, given that Cantor wanted a militarized, wall-defended border with Mexico and got a 100 percent rating from the anti-immigration group FAIR.

As I argue in this Daily Beast column, Cantor's sins against the ideals of limited government are long and numerous. Fact is, since taking office in 2001, he never missed an opportunity to vote for every major expansion of government power he was given, as long as a Republican was in the White House. No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, extension of the Patriot Act, TARP, auto bailouts, endless war: It's all there in his record. As a self-styled (read: sad and pathetic) "Young Gun," he also pushed the GOP's Path to Prosperity budget, which would grow annual spending over the next decade from about $3.7 trillion to $5 trillion. On top of that, of course, he hit all the sour notes possible on social issues: He was dismissive of marriage equality, loved the drug war, and anti-abortion all the way. 

In other words, Cantor represents big government conservativism in its most fulsome manifestation. And it's this package of B.S., not anything related to immigration, that has driven voter identification with the GOP down to 25 percent according to Gallup. Until Republicans understand that they cannot mix libertarianish rhetoric about reducing the size, scope, and spending of government with a massive buildup of spending and regulation and a buttinsky, intolerant attitude toward social issues, they will keep losing elections.

Either own the fact that you are in favor of slightly less spending than Democrats and want to marginalize social outgroups or start living up to your rhetoric. Voters, it seems, are neither stupid nor receptive to lies.

When it comes to immigration specificially, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is right that Republicans have become "trapped" by their rhetoric on the topic, especially regarding the concept of "amnesty."

"We've been somewhat trapped by rhetoric and words, and amnesty's a word that has kind of trapped us," he said, adding that some people think it means giving undocumented immigrants a right to vote, while others say it means allowing them to obtain legal status without a penalty….

Paul is no champion of open borders or even last year's Senate immigration-reform bill (he explains his vote against the plan here). But he is already being attacked by "real" Republicans for even talking about immigration in less-than-apocalyptic terms, especially by people who are quick to say Eric Cantor got crushed because he was "soft" on immigration.

As it happens, 64 percent of Republicans nationwide favor immigration reform. They are joined by 71 percent of independents and 78 percent of Democrats. Within Cantor's own district, a large majority of voters (as many as 72 percent) favored immigration reform.

If the Republicans decide that being virulently anti-immigrant and immigration reform is a way to succeed, they will be on the losing side of not just that issue but history.

Even though polls routinely show that immigration is actually not a particularly important issue for voters, hostility to immigrants confirms in many people's mind a vision of the Republicans as mean, intolerant, and white. That simply doesn't play well in an increasingly diverse and globalized America.

More to the point, large numbers of voters—including 65 percent of the independents who decide all national elections—think that government "has too much power." A majority of voters (55 percent) think the "government is doing too much." These are not new findings or recent turnarounds. Voters have been saying the government does too much and spends too much for a long time.

The Republican Party, especially its doltish leadership, keeps saying, "Yeah, yeah, we hear you, we're on your side, shrink the state, stop spending, we get it." And yet when it is power it cranks up spending and regulation like LBJ's bastard child. And when it is in opposition, it still proposes to spend more money in the future and refuses to abide by its attractive libertarian rhetoric by going on and on about abortion, drugs are bad mmkay, gays need fixing, immigrants scare me, and all the rest. Think about it, Republicans: Large majorities of Americans keep saying they want a government that spends less and does less. Large majorities are also favorably disposed to immigrants and immigration. And you're seriously fixating on keeping immigrants out of country as a successful electoral ploy while laying out budgets that increase spending by at least 35 percent over the coming decade? Run the numbers again, pal.

As much as a single person could personify everything that sucks about the contemporary GOP—a patently fake commitment to small, limited government, a lack of social tolerance, and uncritical support for a military-industrial complex that has lost the last two wars it foisted on Americans—that person was Eric Cantor. Good riddance.

Republicans who sound like him and legislate like him won't be any more successful come this November or in any other future elections either.

News flash: Voters dislike Republicans (and Democrats, too) not despite their policies and the way they wield power but because of their policies and the way they wield power.