Could Eric Cantor's defeat signal good news for Democrats in 2016?

Could Eric Cantor's defeat signal good news for Democrats in 2016?
Dave Brat stands his wife, Laura, as he speaks to supporters in Henrico, Va., after defeating Republican Congressman Eric Cantor in the Republican primary for the 7th Congressional District in Virginia on Tuesday. (P. Kevin Morley / Associated Press)

In times like these, I take great comfort in turning to a work of wisdom that helps explain how terrible things can happen to people who believe themselves well-intentioned.

No, it's not the Bible.


No, it's not "Are you there, God? It's me Eric Cantor."

It is the "GOP Growth and Opportunity Project," a 100-page analysis, produced in 2013 after President Obama's decisive 2012 re-election, by five top Republicans seeking answers to its poor showing in that race. It could have been a catalyst to change the fortunes of a party that has become overly invested in ideological purity.

But its pearls of wisdom have been cast before those who won't listen.

Tuesday's landslide defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia's seventh Congressonal District by an obscure economics professor who whipped up anti-immigrant sentiment by ludicrously accusing Cantor of being pro-amnesty may be great news to tea party supporters, who lost other races. But it's not great news for Republicans desperate to take back the White House.

Pundits have spent the last two days speculating why Brat won: They say the ambitious Cantor, positioning himself to become the next House speaker, was out of touch with his constituents. They say his incumbent's complacency and huge war chest were neutralized by Brat's intense conservative supporters, including talk show stars Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin and the Breitbart website. They say that Brat's ludicrous accusation, that Cantor supports "open borders" and "amnesty," hit home for his district's conservative, overwhelmingly white voters who perceive even tepid immigration reform as an existential threat.

If it does turn out that immigration was the issue that sunk Eric Cantor, Republicans have only dug themselves a deeper hole for 2016.

Most Americans believe there should be some sort of path to citizenship for immigrants who meet certain requirements — 62% in the most recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute. Only 19% of Americans said they believe all immigrants who are here illegally should be forced to leave.

Clearly, the tea party, and its avatars like Brat, are badly — though proudly -- out of step with the rest of America on this issue.

It's too bad they refuse to heed the "Growth and Opportunity Project's" plea for a more rational approach to immigration:

"President George W. Bush used to say, 'Family values don't stop at the Rio Grande and a hungry mother is going to try to feed her child.' When Hispanics heard that, they knew he cared and were willing to listen to his policies on education, jobs, spending, etc. Because his first sentence struck a chord, Hispanic Americans were willing to listen to his second sentence."

The analysis reminds Republicans that Bush got a record number of Latino votes, 44%.

"It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy," its authors wrote. "If Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies."

Sure enough, Republican 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who popularized the phrase "self-deportation," received just 27% of the Latino vote.

The election of Brat is not such great news for a Congress already paralyzed by partisan gridlock, or for a country that shudders at the thought of more threatened government shutdowns or debt ceiling battles.


But it's a much-needed shot in the arm for the tea party, whose demise has been regularly predicted since its inception in 2009. And it's great news for the ideologically rigid wing of the Republican Party. At least in the short run.

But if you're playing the long game, and paying attention to how anti-immigration reform fervor is turning off the growing legions of Latino voters, it's pretty good news for Democrats, too.