Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Eric Cantor’s shocking loss to David Brat in Tuesday’s Republican primary has been widely attributed to his occasional calls to reform America’s broken immigration system. But while it’s true that Brat hammered Cantor on the issue throughout the campaign, it’s not clear that “amnesty” was the reason that the House Majority Leader is soon to be out of a job.

The available polling of Virginia’s seventh congressional district does not suggest that immigration reform was the issue that swung the election. A survey released by left-leaning Public Policy Polling on Wednesday finds that immigration reform is actually quite popular within the district. According to the poll, conducted by phone on election night, 70 percent of Republican voters in VA-07 support the bipartisan immigration reform legislation which passed the Senate last summer. Only 27 percent oppose it. Furthermore, 84 percent of Republican voters say it is important to fix the immigration system, while just 15 percent say it is not important.

Of course, previous polls of VA-07 were proven completely wrong on election night, and PPP’s numbers should similarly be taken with a grain of salt. But there are other reasons to believe that immigration isn’t solely responsible for Cantor’s defeat.

For one, if Republicans in the district really were looking for a candidate who would kill immigration reform efforts, they could do a lot worse than Eric Cantor. Despite his mild tone on immigration issues, the majority leader has gone out of his way to kill even the most politically benign reform measures (such as the ENLIST Act, a bipartisan provision which would have allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to serve in the military.) And Cantor spent millions making sure that his constituents knew that he is “the No. 1 guy standing between the American people and immigration reform,” while Brat spent only $122,793 total in his campaign to brand Cantor as an “amnesty” advocate.

Furthermore, other Republicans representing conservative electorates have not suffered from their actual support for immigration reform. As many Democrats have pointed out, while Cantor was conceding defeat on Tuesday night, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — a member of the “Gang of Eight” that crafted the Senate’s immigration reform bill — was crushing his primary opponents in a landslide, despite their charges that his re-election would lead to “Grahamnesty.” Similarly, Rep. Renee Ellmers’ (R-NC) support for immigration reform did nothing to stop her from winning her primary.

It seems likely that Cantor’s personal unpopularity had more to do with his stunning loss than the charges that he is weak on immigration reform. The aforementioned PPP poll found Cantor’s approval rating at 30 percent within the district, with 63 percent disapproving. The Republican leadership of the House fared even worse, with a 26 percent approval rating and 67 percent disapproval. As Jeff Schaprio writes in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cantor never realized the danger of being the public face of an unpopular Congress within his district:

Cantor’s maneuvering on immigration was illustrative of a larger issue: a perception within Republican circles that Cantor, in his determination to succeed John Boehner as Speaker, seemed more interested in positioning for the next phase of the nonstop news cycle than embracing a distinct agenda.

Further, Cantor — a self-styled Young Gun, who along with Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, was a symbol of Yuppie Republicanism — became a distant figure to many of his Virginia constituents, seen only on Sunday talk shows and in the pages of national newspapers.

Cantor’s priority was traveling the country, raising money from corporate and financial leaders. The torrent of Cantor-generated cash would shore up a smaller but more influential constituency for the often-aloof lawyer: a handful of conservatives within the Republican caucus who would decide the speakership.

Even if immigration reform did not kill Cantor, however, his loss almost certainly cements its death in the House of Representatives. Although Cantor was not a helpful advocate for reform, he at least paid lip service to the idea that the immigration system must be changed. After seeing Cantor fall to a challenge from the right — and watching most of the media blame it on immigration — it’s hard to imagine other House Republicans doing the same, much less actively voting on legislation.

Cantor’s loss will ignite a competition to replace him as majority leader, or even to challenge John Boehner (R-OH) as House Speaker. Whoever wins will need to consolidate right-wing support, and arguing that the House majority should partner with Democrats on immigration reform is not a good way to do so.

It’s now almost impossible to imagine the House moving on immigration reform until after the 2014 midterms. And by then, the 2016 presidential primary campaign — and the inevitable sprint to the right that it inspires — will be getting underway.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Want more political analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

Sen. David Perdue

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) pulled out of his final debate against Democrat Jon Ossoff on Thursday —because he'd rather attend a Donald Trump campaign rally.

The Nov. 1 Senate debate was planned months ago, but Perdue's campaign said he could not participate as promised because he has been too busy doing his job.

"Senator Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia. For 8 of the last 14 days of this campaign, Senator Perdue went back to Washington to work for much needed COVID relief," his spokesperson John Burke said in a statement, referencing a failed attempt by Senate Republicans to pass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) "skinny" $500 billion proposal.

"To make up for the lost time, Senator Perdue has over 20 campaign stops planned for the closing days of this race, and he is excited to welcome and join President Trump in Georgia before November 3rd to campaign for both of their re-election efforts," Burke added.

WSB-TV noted on Thursday that it offered Perdue's campaign other time slots to accommodate the Trump rally, but the overture was rebuffed.

Ossoff's campaign blasted Perdue's "cowardly withdrawal," saying in a statement that the move "says it all: David Perdue feels entitled to his office, and he'll do anything to avoid accountability for his blatant corruption and his total failure during this unprecedented health crisis."

The incumbent's decision to break his promise to debate came one day after a video of Jon Ossoff criticizing Perdue's anti-Obamacare record at a Wednesday debate went viral. As of Friday morning, a 72-second clip of Ossoff has been viewed more than 12 million times.

Perdue responded to that attack by making the odd claim that he repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which would take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of his constituents — because he believed doing so would cover more people.

"I voted against the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, because it was taking insurance away from millions of Georgians. Today almost 18 percent of Georgians don't have any health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act," he falsely claimed.

This is not the first time Perdue has put Trump ahead of the interests of Georgians. According to FiveThirtyEight, he has voted with Trump about 95 percent of the time, including backing his right-wing Supreme Court nominees, his tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy, and his repeated attempts to take money from military families to pay for a massive Southern border wall.

Medical experts and data analyses have suggested Trump's rallies have been super-spreader events for the coronavirus. Trump has refused to adhere to social distancing rules or to require mask usage at the events and the mass gatherings have frequently been immediately followed by case spikes in the communities where he holds them.

One poll this week found that voters across the country said they are less likely to vote for Trump because of his "large, in-person campaign rallies where wearing a mask is not required of attendees."

The race between Ossoff and Perdue is considered a "toss-up" by election experts, and polls show it as virtual tied.

If no candidate gets a majority on Tuesday, the top two finishers will face off in a January runoff.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.