Cantor’s Defeat—What It Does Not Mean
Shocked by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in last week’s Virginia primary, many in the media have decided that this “earthquake” has re-shaped the political landscape.
Immigration reform is dead, they say, and tea party radicals are far stronger than many suspected.
Meanwhile, the alarmists warn, political polarization has divided the country, poisoning our democracy. On that last point they are half-right; Republican voters have moved to the far right, while politically active Democrats are beginning to shift toward the left.
But polarization is not a threat to the Republic. Debate can clarify the issues– and underline what is at stake. Conservatives are making it clear what they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their ideology, and mainstream Americans are becoming alarmed. ““The nomination of someone like Brat—who would like to slash Social Security by 2/3—could bring them out to vote in mid-term elections.
As I will argue in part 2 of this post, a national debate on what are, ultimately, extraordinarily important issues, could strengthen the nation. In Congress, Republicans and Democrats remain gridlocked.
In mainstream America many citizens are disengaged. “I’m just not interested in politics,” they say. Or, “I’ve given up on politicians.”‘
A democracy needs a passionate, engaged electorate. Indifference is what will poison the Republic.
Cantor’s Loss Does Not mean that “Immigration Reform is Dead”
The conventional wisdom says that, until recently, President Obama had been waiting for the House to act on immigration reform. Supposedly, Eric Cantor, the House Majority leader, was open to some sort of compromise on an overhaul of immigration law, and this is why he lost the primary.
Not so fast.
First, this is not all up to the House. Obama could use his executive authority to limit deportations.
Speaking at a fundraiser the day after the primary, President Obama said: “It’s interesting to listen to the pundits and the analysts and some of the conventional wisdom talks about how the politics of immigration reform seem impossible now. I fundamentally reject that.”
An Army of Refugee Children Flood Our Borders–What Should We Do?
Even as the president spoke, thousands of children from Central America continued to surge across our border, seeking an escape from the violence and poverty of Central America.
Once minors get into the U.S., they typically turn to immigration agents for protection. Under U.S. law they must be held pending arrangements for deportation or release. They have no rights to representation, though Legal Aid attorneys have been trying to help many.
On Fox Special Report with Bret Baier, political analyst Brit Hume paid tribute to these lone childrens” struggle and their courage: “The immigrant children illegally crossing American borders by the thousands have triggered a logistical, humanitarian and law enforcement crisis to which current US immigration policy has no satisfactory answer.
“It may be tempting to call for their deportation,” he added, “but that ignores an important consideration: what the minor children, most of them unaccompanied by adults, had to go through just to get here.
“Nearly all are from Guatamala, El Salvador and Honduras, three countries plagued by extraordinary levels of drug and gang violence. Honduras now has the highest per capita murder rate in the world.”
“I have seen some of these kids,” Hume told his audience. “A youth home where I serve on the board here in Virginia has taken in dozens of them. They are remarkable kids from what I have seen of them. They are well behaved. When meals are served some of them weep at the fact that they’re eating better than their families can back home. They wait till all are served before they’ll eat. They turn up at prayer services. . . . They potentially could make an enormous contribution to this country if we can find a way to house them and care for them and let them stay”. (Hat-tip to Digby for calling attention to Hume’s impassioned speech.)
The flood of young refugees, crossing into this country daily– and overflowing holding centers—casts a spotlight on their plight, making it clear that illegal immigration is not a problem that we can ignore. We just don’t know what to do with these children.
One Boy’s Story
“‘Where I live, parents are obligated to give a son to the gangs,’” Carols, a 17-year-old from Honduras told Bloomberg, while fighting back tears.
An uncle who tried to defy the criminals paid with his life.
Another child showed Bloomberg his right hand: before he fled Honduras, a gang had accosted him on the street and amputated the tips of two fingers
“If you want to live, you have to leave your family,” a third 16-year-old confided.
“Carlos’ journey of 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) took about a month by bus and foot,” Bloomberg reports. When he arrived in northern Mexico, just a quarter mile from the border, he explained that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll try to reach an uncle in Houston clandestinely or voluntarily surrender to border agents.
“’If I do that, they could deport me,” Carlos explained
“That could be fatal” the reporter observed.
Pressure on President Obama
In the U.S., reform advocates continue to press Presidebt Obama to lower the number of deportations, and to extend amnesty to the parents and guardians of “Dreamers”—children who have been in this country for five years.
“Just because Cantor lost doesn’t mean that all of those other conversations and criticism of immigration goes away,” Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian recently told CNN.” The likelihood was that the President was planning to use executive action anyway regardless of what happened to Cantor.”
I’m at all certain that Obama was poised to act. Friday, White House representatives disappointed reformers by saying that “they are still leaving the window wide open for Congress to pass an immigration bill by the end of the summer — before the White House makes moves to implement more limited fixes on its own.”
Kevin McCarthy- The Man of the Moment
But Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is replacing Cantor as the Majority Leader of the House, could emerge as an unlikely reform advocate.
McCarthy hails from California’s 23rd congressional district, an area that is 35% Latino, and where the local business community depends on immigrant labor to pick local crops.
“We have spoken with Congressman McCarthy and his staff about immigration reform and its importance to our local and regional economy,” Cynthia Pollard, president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce recently told CNN.
“I led a delegation of several other business leaders in a meeting with Congressman McCarthy last fall in Washington, D.C., to discuss the issue,” Pollard added. “He expressed . . . his commitment to a step-by-step assessment and overhaul of the system that is clearly broken.”
Indeed, McCarthy has said that he favors extending legal status to undocumented immigrants, if not full citizenship.
No surprise, the immigrants’ advocates are ready to turn up the heat: “As the person responsible for scheduling House votes, when it comes to immigration reform, McCarthy will either be a hero or a zero,” Frank Sherry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group recently told CNN.
“He can save the GOP from itself by quickly scheduling a vote on historic legislation that the majority of the House, the country and even his district supports; or he can squander the opportunity . . . The future of the GOP may well hinge on his choice.”
According to CNN “immigration groups that have staged sit-ins at McCarthy’s district offices in the past vow they are poised to do so again if they sense he’s unwilling to tackle reform.”
Clearly, immigration reform is not dead.
To the contrary, in some ways I’m more hopeful than I was before Cantor lost his primary. At most, Cantor’s support for reform was lukewarm. In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that Cantor lost, not because he was ready to compromise on immigration, but because his supporters didn’t turn out to vote. They thought he had the election locked up.
McCarthy, on the other hand, is going to be feeling serious pressure from businessmen back home, and they, along with the flood of young refugees from Central America, will keep the issue front and center.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that last January McCarthy was the first member of House GOP leadership to support legal status for undocumented immigrants. He pointed out that: “42 percent of the people who are here illegally came here legally on a visa.” He believes that “we need a guest workers program.” He also co-sponsored the ENLIST Act, with fellow Californian Rep. Jeff Denham, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented youth who serve in the military.
Granted, if McCarthy supports virtually any type of reform, House Republicans who are up for re-election and fear Cantor’s fate will feel obliged to take a very hard line—even if that means standing up to their new majority leader. But when Rupert Murdoch is begging his party to act on immigration reform, you know that Republican opposition is cracking.
My guess is that the debate over immigration will come to a head either toward the end of July, or during the midterm elections.
Cantor’s Defeat Does Not Mean that the Tea Party is Alive and Well
Since Cantor took a drubbing, more than one commentator has insisted that David Brat’s win is proof that “the tea party is resilient.”
This theme goes hand in hand with the notion that immigration reform is dead. “Now many in the Beltway will simply say immigration is untouchable because the tea party wants it that way and if the tea party can beat Cantor it can beat anyone” one pundit declared.
First, it is important to recognize that Brat was not supported by the National Tea Party. His cheerleaders represented a small fringe group in one Virginia district. And Virginia’s 7th district is not just another Republican district. For 43 years it has been a GOP stronghold. The last Democratic congressman elected from the 7th left office in 1971. Since then, gerrymandering has only intensified political passions in that neck of the woods.
Secondly, Brat himself is not a typical tea party activist who believes in small government.Consider his views on a range of issues: Reportedly, Brat supports slashing Medicare and Social Security payouts to seniors by 2/3. He wants to dissolve the IRS. He doesn’t fear global warming. And he doesn’t believe in the “common” good.
Will he express these views during the campaign? If he does, it is possible that alarmed centrists (particularly seniors) could come out in force, handing victory to his Democratic opponent, Jack Trammell.
I am not saying that this will happen But Brat is an inexperienced, unpredictable politician who might do or say anything.
For example, he has called for extreme cuts to funding for education. On “You.Tube” he explained: “My hero Socrates trained Plato on a rock. How much did that cost? So the greatest minds in history became the greatest minds in history without spending a lot of money.”
(Aristotle and Plato on a rock? Imagine what Jon Stewart could do with that as a model for how we should redesign our public schools.)
Nor is Brat simply another right leaning economist. His CV shows that his scholarly work includes “God and Advanced Mammon — Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?” and “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand.”
How many grass roots tea partiers talk about Ayn Rand, Mammon and Usury?
In sum, Brat is not a garden-variety Tea Partier. A fringe candidate, he was elected by a fringe of the electorate in an unusually conservative district.
As Ezra Klein has pointed out: “Eric Cantor wasn’t beaten by the Tea Party. . . “CANTOR’S LOSS LAST NIGHT CAME AT THE HANDS OF ABOUT 5 PERCENT OF HIS CONSTITUENTS.” [his emphasis]
Some have suggested that Brat will embolden other Tea Party types to crawl out of the woodwork and run for office. But I doubt that we’ll see many Brat look-alikes joining Congress.
Professor Brat is sui generis Or to put it another way, he is somewhat unhinged. In this, he reminds me of Sarah Palin. I can’t help but wonder: can he see Russia from Richmond?
Cantor’s loss most likely mean nothing much. He had 5 times as much money as Brat. He spent more on steak than Brat did to get elected. He PARTIED, he didn’t campaign for office. Perhaps he thought that office was owed to him or maybe he pissed off the Koch Bros, who knows? Its a primary, two Baggers banging heads, the better Tea Bagger won.
Cantor wasn’t out to “save” the country or even try to help. He’s an obstructionist that’s being replaced by another obstructionist.
Brat STILL has a general election to win. If The Dem doesn’t make the same mistakes as Cantor, Brat may well lose.
Those kids from Central America WILL DO MORE for immigration reform than Obama&ALL of Congress ever would on their own.
“Granted, if McCarthy supports virtually any type of reform, House Republicans who are up for re-election and fear Cantor’s fate will feel obliged to take a very hard line—even if that means standing up to their new majority leader. But when Rupert Murdoch is begging his party to act on immigration reform, you know that Republican opposition is cracking.”
Primary season is nearly over so it may be that some Republicans can move to the center on this issue and doing so might actually be an advantage at this point. Without the threat of a primary opponent Republicans can afford to have sane, or at least what appear to be sane, positions on immigration.
Gerrymandering has worked so well that a great majority of Republican districts are so red that even if Tea Party loyalists decided to be nihilists and stay home that the Republican candidate would still win. In districts that are closer tacking to the center is likely to garner more votes than would be lost if Tea Party purists sit at home.
The Tea Party is as much a media phenomenon as anything else. They are Hofstadter’s “paranoid style”, the lunatic fringe, the, to borrow a phrase from Darth Cheney, dead enders. Sure, in some districts they may be a deciding force but in much of the country they are less than twenty percent of the electorate. They may have been able to pull another twenty percent with them but we’ve seen time again that nutso candidates like O’Donnell, Angle, the various women haters fall apart in the general election.
Immigration is an issue that the GOP could use to pull moderate voters to them.
You write, “Cantor’s Defeat—What It Does Not Mean?”
Representative Cantor took the electorate in his district for granted. Most politicians at the national level are guilty of that sin. They become so fixated on the policies espoused by their party that they lose sight of the simple fact that they are representatives. Their priorities become pleasing their party leadership, pleasing lobbyists, and pleasing contributors.
The real issue is, what are the lessons that his fellow Republic representatives will take from this? I don’t see any way that a Republican will vote in favor of granting ANY amnesty to illegal immigrants, any time soon.
You write, “Obama could use his executive authority to limit deportations.”
President Obama’s actions reflect on other Democrats, some of whom are seeking reelection. At some point he will be guilty of doing what Representative Cantor did.
Do Democratic Senators running for reelection need any more problems?
I am an Independent who voted for President Obama twice and I accept that his intentions are good. But the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Unintended consequences are consequences nonetheless.
During my lifetime politicians seem to have come to the belief that their job is to DRAG the electorate “forward” in the name of some good intention. Informing the public or trying to persuade them is one thing, DRAGGING the them is another. The case in point is that doing an end run around the Congress will have consequences.
At what point do the wheels come off?
We are at a point now where if there was a viable centrist third party, we would be throwing some Democrats and some Republicans out of office.
I totally agree. Cantor was an obstructionist who is being replaced by
I would add only that Brat is so extreme that it is possible (not at all
probable) that Jack Trammell could defeat him–if Brat says or does something so extreme that voters are alarmed. In other case, people who don’t normally vote in mid-terms could turn out. Though that district is so
gerrymandered that there just aren’t that many Democrats or independents to come out.
Finally, you’re right. Those kids from the Honduras are going to do more for immigration than the vast majority of Congressman. Their story is compelling. Some actually would be in real danger if they returned home?
Who would favor deporting minors too a place some would be killed?
Presumably some conservatives who feel strongly about “the rule of law”
would say we should. But if they say that out loud they will alienate many
mainstream Americans who ordinarily would not vote–certainly not in midterm elections. But more might come out this fall if they are alarmed by extreme right-wingers.
And in 2016, those mainstream less ideological Americans will vote against
I agree that Republicans who have won their primaries–or who are not up for re-election this fall–should be able to support moderate immigration reform.
But Republicans have become so self-destructive . . .
And many sensible Republicans were drummed out of the party long ago (by Rove, et. al.)
Democrats who don’t support immigration reform will be in trouble in many parts of the country where Latinos, Asians, African Americans and new immigrants are coming out to vote in larger and larger numbers.
It is important to recognize that not only Latinos, but these other groups support immigration reform. As do many younger, better-educated white voters.
In the last two presidential elections minorities decided the election
(Both times, Obama had less than 50% of the white vote)
Demographics are changing.
Democrats will have many more problems if they don’t back
immigration reform. They need to recognize that it is not only Latinos, but
Asians, etc. who feel strongly about this.
Obama will help his party’s chances of taking the White House in 2016 by
standing up on this issue. (Which is why I think he will)
As for politicians “dragging voters forward”– that is exactly what happened when Congress passed Civil Rights Legislation. LBJ, Robert Kenned and many others in Congress were ahead of the public on this issue,
LBJ knew that Democrats were going to lose the “solid South” but he
thought, rightly, that there are some times when politicians should Lead.
Most Americans now support Civil Rights, and realize that it was the right thing to do.
(Politicians also dragged the American public, many kicking and screaming, into WW II. At the point, there was quite a bit of anti-semitism in the U.S. and many Americans either didn’t believe–or didn’t want to believe–what was happen to Jewish people in Europe.
And while we won WW I many families had lost sons, brothers and husbands. They didn’t want to become involved in “other people’s problems.”
But of course, today, the vast majority of Americans are very proud of what we did during World War II.
Sometimes the leaders that we elect need to do just that: Lead.
Finally, the wheels are coming off the Republican Party. If it’s possible to put together a Third Party, the Republicans are the ones who will be replaced. Today’s Dems just aren’t that extreme.
We could see a Third Party form when, and If, African-Americans and Latinos are able to come together to form that party. But that could happen only when they comprise the majority of the population–and more have the money to support candidates in our ridiculously expensive campaigns..
I hope that won’t happen; I don’t want to see the country divided along clear racial lines. And if Democrats embrace minority candidates I don’t think it will happen. Also, over the next 15-20 years, I’m hopeful that inter-marriage will blur those racial lines.
But the question remains —where will a new party (which we may need to replace a suicidal GOP) come from?
Libertarians? Very Wealthy Americans and Libertarians who see individual rights as a priority and are less interested in creating an egalitarian society
(which, in their view, would tax and regulate them to death) ??
I don’t know. But “small government, less government” could be a
theme for an “Elite” third party. But it would have to be far less extremist than the Tea Party. Presumably establishment Republicans tied to Big Business would form the backbone of this elite Third Party.
Your response to my comment was written like a Democrat true believer.
You missed one. Politicians dragged Americans into the Civil War where 640,000 of them were killed. And judging by the result, it was in the name of changing slavery “de jure” into “de facto” slavery for 80+ years. The winning politicians could not even bring themselves to demand that the south not interfere with the voting rights of the former slaves.
Just one more reason to believe that winner take all politics has unintended consequences. Compromise was the order of the day when the US Constitution was written and ratified. But compromise was less appealing by the time of the Civil War. And currently it has become a dirty word.
The denial of voting rights ended because the black civil rights movements rubbed white American noses in the injustice of it. And other Americans, white and black, applied their individual pressures. In the end, defenders of literacy tests, poll taxes, and intimidation failed. Politicians always have their fingers in the air testing for their next moves and that time was no different. The 1964 Voting Rights Act passed in July of 1964. It passed In the Senate by 73 to 27 and in the House by 289 to 126. And President Johnson was elected in November 1964 by 486 to 52 electoral votes. Those votes were not even close! President Johnson even won Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia which are southern states by most definitions.
The US got into WWII after Japan attacked our military in Hawaii and killed about 2400 military men. And after Germany declared war on us, we reciprocated. But President Roosevelt did not drag the American people into that war. Those declarations of war would have easily been passed by a referendum. My father was happy to have survived combat and a German POW camp and 4 of my uncles were happy to have survived combat. Eight of their sons were happy to have survived their time in the military.
I understand that Democratic and Republican presidents have both made end runs around the Congress. My concern is about the unintended consequences of those kind of actions.
Let me give you a little example. Let’s assume that President Obama took your advice and that the Republicans swept the Senate. Do you imagine that Tea Party Republicans would let the chance go by to impeach the President? And what would that do to any chance of compromise in the future? (Or race relations for that matter!)
You have raised my curiosity, do you believe that the US has any right to regulate immigration? Have visas become passé? Why should anyone stand in line to get a visa if all that is needed is to get across any US border?
You believe that turning illegal immigrants into legal immigrants will be the prime issue over the next decade and I do not. That will be the economy.
I wrote: “We are at a point now where if there was a viable centrist third party, we would be throwing some Democrats and some Republicans out of office.” And you came back with a litany of possibilities for a third party, none of which would ever be considered centrist.
The Democrats and the Republicans both believe that they ARE the center. They are both wrong.
I believe that I agree with your opinions concerning ObamaCare but I am not a Democrat.
Any Third Party will never start out as Elitist. It will consist of those whom The Republicans and The Democrats have marginalized. (fucked over) Their causes will be the very ones that aren’t bought in the Halls Of Congress or PAID for in the alley behind K Street.