EDITORIAL: Why Eric Cantor lost

The Republican establishment stumbles on the party’s grass roots

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Experience is a hard teacher, but there’s no shortage of hard heads in Washington. There are lessons aplenty in the dramatic and unexpected defeat of Eric Cantor on Tuesday night in Virginia, and some of the people who imagine themselves the wisest old heads in town, and who have a lot to learn, are determined to ignore those lessons. They just don’t get it.

Mr. Cantor had what “everyone” told him was a cakewalk to the Republican nomination for an eighth term. The only man standing in his way was a true believer in common sense for the commonwealth, a college professor no one had ever heard of at a college nobody had ever heard of. Mr. Cantor had the power of incumbency and a campaign chest of $2 million, with lobbyists and corporate executives banging on his door to give him more. The professor finally scraped up a campaign fund of $200,000, hardly enough to pay the rent and buy the gasoline to travel to the stump or the stamps to mail his campaign literature. There was no way Mr. Cantor, who is after all the Republican majority leader in the House, could lose. But lose he did. He didn’t squeak past Mr. Cantor with nothing to spare, either. He buried him, 55 percent to 45 percent, and that’s a landslide in anybody’s book.

Dave Brat, the professor from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, just north of Richmond, could write a book on how to take down a giant with nothing but a homemade slingshot, and maybe he will. But Mr. Brat was himself caught up in a rare perfect storm, a credible candidate with a cause begging for someone to articulate it.

The cause was immigration, specifically the wave of illegal immigrants washing unrestrained over the nation’s southern border, encouraged if not incited by the Obama administration and its immigration allies, including Eric Cantor. Mr. Cantor signed the amnesty “principles” set out by certain Republicans in Congress and endorsed a wide-ranging amnesty for children. It’s this promise that invited the wave of unaccompanied children now coming over the Texas border.

Mr. Brat opposes all this, and said so, over and over. He talked of other things — Obamacare, the budget, bailouts — but opposition to amnesty was the centerpiece of his campaign, and he focused like a laser on it. All the spinning from Capitol Hill, the White House, and the lobbying warrens of K Street can’t change that, though the spinners are trying. Politico, the political daily, argues that since 72 percent of voters in Mr. Cantor’s district told pollsters on Election Day that they “strongly” or “somewhat” support immigration reform that “would secure the borders, block employers from hiring those here illegally,” the immigration issue couldn’t have defeated Mr. Cantor.

This is disingenuous to the max, and typical of the spinning. The Obama administration, like its allies in Congress, has no intention of securing the border. If it did, genuine reform might be possible. Voters in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, like voters everywhere, know that, and see clearly what’s actually going on. The Democrats regard the ruptured border as the source of the votes that could give them permanent majorities, and the establishment Republicans want waves of immigrants as cheap and easily manipulated labor. They think this is win-win for everybody.

The grass roots don’t see it that way. The voters in the grass roots, whether Tea Party or coffee party, watch as they see their country transformed, and they don’t like it. That’s what Tuesday night in Virginia was all about.

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