Eric Cantor’s Loss is Likely to Widen the Immigration Debate

by Harold Meyerson

The winner in  last Tuesday's mind-boggling defeat of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wasn't just David Who? (Actually, David Brat.) It also was gridlock — for the remainder of this congressional session, and the next one, and probably for a number of years beyond that.

Brat's victory is almost certain to push the Republican Party to the right on the very issue that will cement the Democrats' hold on the White House: immigration. It's not that Cantor's alleged squishiness on the undocumenteds was the only issue in play; there were many reasons why Brat prevailed. One of them, surely, had to be voters' almost pan-ideological revulsion at the congressional leadership. Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, also attacked Cantor for his consistent defense of Wall Street. "All the investment banks in New York and D.C. — those guys should have gone to jail," Brat said at a tea party rally last month. "Instead of going to jail, they went on Eric's Rolodex, and they are sending him big checks."

But Brat reserved most of his ire for Cantor's willingness to entertain a bill that would legalize undocumented immigrants — "40 million" — who were bound to bring down Americans' wages, he told the Tea Party. (This overstated the number of the undocumented by a factor of four, confirming the suspicions of many that you can become an economics professor without actually knowing how to count.) Brat's campaign, as the New Republic's John Judis noted, was a classic of right-wing populism, blaming both Wall Street banks and the nonwhite and immigrant poor for our economic woes.

It's the anti-immigrant theme that has dominated the discourse since Tuesday night. House Republicans, some of whom were flirting with the notion of treating the undocumented as human beings, are now certain to oppose bringing any immigration reform bill to a vote.

This newly reinforced intransigence could not be further from the actual sentiments of the American people. On the same day as Cantor's defeat, the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution released a survey of Americans' attitudes toward immigrants and immigration reform. Fully 62 percent (including 51 percent of Republicans) supported legislation enabling the undocumented to become citizens, and 17 percent backed legalization short of citizenship. Just 19 percent favored deporting the undocumented — though 30 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of tea party participants backed that option.

Juxtapose those numbers against Tuesday's Cantor debacle and the result can only be a widening of the parties' differences on an issue of major electoral import. House Republicans, the vast majority of them safely cocooned in neatly gerrymandered, right-wing, lily-white districts, will continue to block efforts at immigration reform. President Obama is likely to respond by extending his do-not-deport policy, currently applicable to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, to a wider range of people — perhaps to the undocumented parents of U.S.-born children.

Latinos will have every reason to go to the polls, particularly in presidential election years, to punish Republicans. (As polling has shown that Latinos favor a bigger government delivering more services, they'd vote heavily Democratic anyway, but the deepening of Republican nativism will only boost their turnout.) The Democrats' hold on the White House will grow stronger. The Senate will eventually tilt more Democratic, too, since states will become more racially diverse and their boundary lines can't be gerrymandered.

The Great Recession has deepened the nation's already profound divisions. Fed a steady diet of bile and bilge from right-wing media, many Republicans blame immigrants and minorities for much of our economic ills, and see in the nation's growing diversity the loss of the "traditional" (that is, white Christian) American republic to a multiracial democracy. For their part, the ever more multiracial Democrats, particularly in cities where polyglot working-class coalitions have come to power, seek to combat growing inequality by raising workers' pay and doing what they can to stop deportations.

What all this means is that the policy differences between red and blue states will grow relentlessly wider. And that the federal government, unless it somehow comes under one-party control, will be able to do relentlessly less and less.

Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect.

 

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 Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect and a Washington Post columnist.  He is a Vice Chair of DSA. 


 

 

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Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
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Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

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Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

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Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

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Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.