One take on Eric Cantor's surprise defeat last night is that supporting amnesty will get you booted out of office, meaning immigration reform is now totally, completely, irrevocably six-feet-under dead. But if immigration reform is dead now (assuming it hasn't already been dead for a while) it's because everyone keeps saying it is.
"Here's the message from Virginia: You either stand with Americans or you stand with the invaders," tweeted Fox News' Todd Starnes. The thing is, Cantor was, at best, a wishy-washy supporter of small reforms, whereas, for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham supported larger, broader pieces of reform and managed to breeze through his primary Tuesday night. Cantor's problem was that he too perfectly fit the Washington insider image: he spent almost as much money on steakhouses as his opponent, David Brat, spent in total, and he didn't spend enough time connecting to his constituents.
Polls show voters want immigration reform
Rep. Renee Ellmers and Sen. Lindsey Graham both supported immigration reform more aggressively than Cantor, but sailed through their primaries. As The Wall Street Journal writes, the difference is that Graham and Ellmers defended their support for immigration and Cantor tried to play both sides by coming out against "amnesty." As Politico noted, Cantor supported piecemeal reforms "such as border security and legal status for young undocumented immigrants."
It's worth noting that Republican primary voters will likely be more conservative than all Republicans. But a Public Policy Polling survey commissioned by the left-leaning Americans United for Change found that 70 percent of Republican registered voters in Cantor's district would support immigration reform that made it illegal to hire undocumented workers but also provided a path to citizenship, according to Politico.
Virginians didn't like Cantor
That same PPP poll found that Cantor wasn't popular in his district — he had a 63 percent disapproval rating. Cantor outspent Brat, but he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of advisors, strategists, and steakhouses. Brat spent more time in Virginia. "A Republican close to Boehner" emailed Politico's Playbook to say that immigration might not be a "potent" issue for primary voters, but "Cantor spent too much time on the road and in the Hamptons."
As The New York Times' The Upshot noted, though Cantor tends to vote with the party, he has voted against the GOP line on a few key, very public votes, including raising the debt ceiling and allocation relief funds for Hurricane Sandy.
The lamestream media killed immigration reform
The actual narrative of last night's loss is this: The media's immigration-focused coverage of Cantor's loss will convince Republicans Cantor's loss killed immigration reform. As Nate Cohn at The Upshot argued:
Regardless of the exact reason for Mr. Cantor’s defeat, the news media’s focus on immigration is likely to deter Republicans from supporting comprehensive immigration reform. It could even discourage Republican presidential candidates in 2016, when the party will need to broaden its appeal to Hispanic voters in states like Florida.
The only thing achieved by the "Cantor Lost Because of Immigration" narrative is that anti-immigration conservatives get to have their cake and eat it too. RINO Cantor got voted out even though he didn't really support broad immigration reform, and yet Republicans are now too afraid to advocate for the reforms Cantor didn't even want. And conservatives know it. Some conservative commentators are depicting Cantor's defeat as a symptom of frustration with party leadership, but as RedState's Erick Erickson put it:
Dear Media: you will make the Cantor loss all about immigration. You will be wrong. But it will be useful to us. So thanks.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) June 11, 2014