Rarely is an election about just one specific issue. But Eric Cantor’s position on immigration reform, which included supporting some types of amnesty, fueled his defeat.
His opponent, Dave Brat, made it the focal point of his campaign to oust Cantor. And while the political class is putting much of the blame for Cantor’s defeat on consultants who gave him bad advice and had faulty polls showing him way ahead just weeks before, the stories pouring out of Texas and Arizona over the weekend about the influx of illegal immigrant children flooding across the southern border may very well have turned those polls on their head.
The election may have been badly timed for Cantor but it was also a forewarning for other candidates that supporting amnesty is not a winning position for attracting Republican voters.
Additionally, Cantor’s position on immigration was an example of attempting to put his finger on the pulse of the country, not his constituency. Cantor had increasingly become seen as a national political figure – not the representative of the 7th district of Virginia.
And for Cantor, as with anyone in a leadership position, there is always a risk in listening to national voices and lobbyists organizations rather than individual constituents. Some national Republican-friendly groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, are for immigration reform that includes amnesty provisions. The majority of conservative voters are not. Yesterday’s results show that individual citizens can be more influential than special interests on Election Day.
Sure, it’s possible some Democrats in the 7th district crossed party lines and voted for Cantor’s opponent, but this wasn’t a case of losing by a few hundred votes. Cantor lost by over 7,000 votes and more Republicans voted in this year’s primary than in 2012. The fact that Cantor raised over $5 million and Brat only upwards of $200,000 shows money can’t compete with a determined electorate.
There’s an old saying that one “should dance with the one that brought you.” Cantor lost because conservatives in the 7th district increasingly felt that on issues like immigration reform he had left them for another dance partner.
This article has been modified.