As a former voter in Virginia’s 7th congressional district, I never thought I would see the day Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) would be defeated in a Republican Primary. To put my cards on the table, I stopped voting for Cantor after he twice supported the Trouble Asset Relief Progam (TARP). I never met him personally but was not a big fan of his.
We’ve heard a lot of different things about the now ex-Majority Leader of the House of Representatives. A lot of talk has centered around immigration reform and Cantor’s actions in that area. I will downplay the importance of it (and Laura Ingraham’s spotlighting of the issue of it) because in my view Cantor’s actions (and attempts to play both sides) crystallized all the things that primary voters in that district were angry about.
Cantor was arrogant and disdainful of the voters, especially the more conservative voters of his district. From his refusal to debate primary or general election opponents to refusing to have a town hall with the Richmond Tea Party about Obamacare, Cantor really didn’t enjoy talking to his own voters. Ever. And that’s what gave Dave Brat the opening to defeat him, because all he did was talk to voters.
But I will say this to Republicans in the Congress who have talked about immigration reform. There is a right way and a wrong way. Cantor’s way — working around the Republican caucus to pass a bill with largely Democratic support — was the wrong way. Any immigration bill needs to have a majority of Republican congressmen on board before going forward. A little later I will say what I think is the right way.
So that’s what they can learn but what can the Tea Party and other grassroots conservatives learn? Brat’s victory came without the aid of outside groups and with very little money.
1. Get to work early — until the tea party takes over the party apparatus they have to work on an earlier schedule to their establishment counterparts. That means groups need to start talking to each other the year before a specific elected office comes up. For a congressional or even senatorial seat that’s up in 2016, grassroots folks need to get together in 2015 and essentially hold an unofficial primary. The reason you do that is . . .
2. Stop sabotaging one another — While Brat was one candidate running with the entire grassroots behind him in South Carolina there were six (!!!) people running against Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Shockingly, none of the six got traction and were unable to keep Graham under 50% and put him in a runoff. In North Carolina it was even worse. Eight candidates ran, and the best of them, Greg Brannon, ran a credible second and would’ve been a fabulous senator. But so many of his votes went to other candidates, allowing establishment pick Thom Tillis, speaker of the house, to win with only 45.7% of the vote. The grassroots needs to be united. Can we keep it to one or two candidates please, so we don’t repeat these snafus?
3. Eloquence and sobriety — It’s great to be energized and even angry about the direction of the country, the cultural sludge we are sinking in, and even what a terrible job President Barack Obama is doing. But for God’s sake, no more people saying moronic things that the left-wing media will use to sink the candidate. Saying the President isn’t an American or is a Muslim or some of the other intemperate things that are guaranteed to turn off some Republicans and Independents that agree the President is awful at his job.
4. The primary is not the be all and end all — Seeing one of our guys upset a sitting incumbent is a thrill, and while this should be obvious it bears repeating again. We have to get the job done in the general. For me, that means sending these candidates money and getting your friends, family and other like-minded folks to do likewise. Given the lack of enthusiasm the Republican congressional campaign committees have for tea party candidates, it has to be up to us to help the candidates that win these primaries get the ammunition they need in the general election. That means supporting Brat, Ben Sasse in Nebraska and Joni Ernst in Iowa as much as you can!
5. Let’s get the right leadership — Cantor has quit as Majority Leader and if you are a tea party conservative you now have a runner in the race. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) is running against a Cantor doppelganger, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), for the post. If you live in a district with a Republican congressman, then call him or her and encourage them to vote for Labrador in the strongest possible terms. And if there is another leadership fight in the House or Senate after 2014, then whoever the conservative is in that race, let’s put the pressure on our representatives to support that person!
As I said before I believe there is a right way to achieve immigration reform and get the thing conservatives want most: border security. For a long time, I was a border-security-only person, and someone who said no to any reform until a Republican President was elected. But this breakout session (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cIcKM4TPQg) at the Conservative Political Action Conference has changed my thinking a bit. For me this is a three-stage process.
Stage one: A bill that puts in the sort of verifiable border security controls that conservatives want: completion of the fence, along with more technology and more border patrol on the southern border. Couple that with a bill to reform the guest-worker visa program which is a morass that’s so difficult to navigate that it encourages workers to come to the USA illegally. Of all the great ideas I heard at CPAC, the best one was the Red Card solution advanced by Helen Krieble of the Virginia K. Kriebel foundation (www.redcardsolution.com).
Stage two: A bill that reforms the legal immigration system. Why do people come to America illegally? Because trying to do the right thing and emigrate here legally is a nightmare that takes years to get through. And that’s if the USA says yes, you can come. Imagine going through all the paperwork and expense and being told no. One of the few parts of the federal government that needs to grow is the Immigration and Naturalization Service. We need enough people to process all the applications to come here legally, and streamline the process so it doesn’t take years to complete.
In addition to that reform, I would have a path to legalization and then a path to citizenship. Once the flow of illegal immigrants is slowed to a trickle, then a plan to let those folks who came here illegally (but followed the law since) find a way to become part of this country is okay by me. There should be a certain time period to come forward and get on the path towards legalization. Anyone that doesn’t follow that path is booted out and not allowed back in. The reason this is necessary is that there isn’t support for deporting all the illegal immigrants that are here. It doesn’t make policy or political sense either. This country can assimilate a lot of these people, and they will be productive law-abiding citizens.
Final stage: A bill that says anyone that comes over the border illegally after a certain date is sent back and banned from ever applying for citizenship to the USA. Also, to the degree the law needs to be clarified or changed, we need to make sure that illegal immigrants in jail for felonies or worse need to serve their time in jail and then are sent back to where they came from never to return.
And these bills need to presented by a united Republican Congress in 2015. Now I expect Democrats in the Senate to filibuster these, and if somehow they don’t, I expect President Obama to veto them. So why do that if that’s the case? My calculus is a political one.
Republicans have to pull the curtain back on the con that Democrats have run on the Hispanic community in America. Democrats have talked about comprehensive immigration reform but what they really want is the pathway to citizenship and the status quo on the border. And failing that, what they really want is no change.
Democrats do not give a damn about illegal immigrants beyond the potential votes they see in the future, and the potential votes they use them to get now. They don’t care about coyotes taking people across the border and forcing them into a form of indentured servitude to pay them off for getting them to the USA. They don’t care about illegal immigrants used as mules by the drug cartels. They don’t care about illegal immigrants being the victims of crimes and having no one to turn to because they are afraid if the call the police they might get deported. THEY DON’T CARE. It’s time to force them to reveal that by voting no to a plan that gives both sides a lot of what they want.
Democrats want the issue to use against Republicans in the Hispanic community. They want a racial cudgel to divide people and get their votes. It’s time to show Hispanics in this country that there is one party that actually wants to solve the problem to as many people’s satisfaction as possible. And that party is the Republican Party. That’s why we need to do this in 2015 because we can put the Democrats (and especially Hillary Clinton who will make immigration reform one of her centerpieces if it’s not done) on the defensive in 2016.