Not Dead Yet

Two of the biggest stories in this week full of big news are little-known economics professor Dave Brat’s upset victory of Rep. Eric Cantor in a Virginia Republican congressional primary and the humanitarian crisis occurring inside the squalid makeshift detention camps in Arizona and Texas that are housing a recent flood of youthful illegal immigrants from Central America. Although separated by a couple thousand miles of America, the two stories are not unrelated.
Brat’s unprecedented primary victory over a House majority leader was caused by a number of factors, including a growing sense among the Republican’s conservative that its Congressional leadership has been too timid in resisting the president’s agenda and an occasionally successful insurgency by the “tea party” to make the GOP more conservative, but the issue of illegal immigration seems to have been the most important. Cantor had long been popular in the district, and was once a darling of the conservatives and a favored villain of the liberals for helping to maintain the party discipline that kept Obamacare from getting so much as a single Republican vote even at the height of the president’s popularity, and his occasional heresies and frequent caution since then would not ordinarily send such a high-ranking incumbent to defeat. Cantor had gone wobbly enough on the immigration issue to endorse amnesty for children, however, and although it wasn’t enough to placate the pro-immigration activists who stormed his headquarters after the race it was enough to lose a majority of his district’s Republican primary voters to a shoe-string campaign by a political novice who relentlessly stressed his longstanding call for strict border enforcement.
Several days of distressing headlines about the flood of children lured across the porous southwest border by that promise of amnesty to squalid, disease-ridden camps probably didn’t help Cantor’s cause. The fiasco hasn’t helped the broader pro-illegal immigration cause, either, and the conventional wisdom know holds that Cantor’s defeat will scare enough wobbly Republicans into line that the the slim chances of a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill being passed in the next two years have vanished. One can only hope this is true, but “comprehensive immigration reform” has more lives than movie monsters that keep crawling out of the grave and wobbly Republicans can just as easily be scared by the prospect of bad press and being called a racist by somebody. There won’t be any meaningful border enforcement for the next two years, no matter how successful Prof. Brat might prove, and the open borders faction won’t quit until those makeshift detention camps are popping up everywhere. They’re already spreading as far northeast as Massachusetts, and the issue already resonates as far east as central Virginia, but it’s nice to see a stiffening of the Republican spine.
The big upset also proves that there’s still some life left in that much-maligned “Tea Party” that has all the respectable folk riled up. This is good news, as the Republican spine needs stiffening on all the fiscal and economic and individual liberty issues that the movement espouses. They’ve taken their share of losses in the primaries thus far, but their winning percentage against far better-funded incumbents is nudging a lot of incumbents to the right and such a high-ranking scalp as Cantor’s will increase that salutary influence. This time around they also seem to be running better candidates who won’t make the rookie mistakes that cost winnable elections in the past, and Brat seems a particularly impressive nominee who should do well in the general election if the state and national party professionals are smart enough to donate a few extra shoestrings.

— Bud Norman