Joseph Cotto, 6/17/2014 [Archive]

Will Republicans Learn the Real Lesson of Cantor's Loss

By Joseph Cotto

People are still trying to figure out what Eric Cantor's primary defeat means for our nation.

While it is all but certain illegal alien amnesty won't be making its way through Congress anytime soon, Cantor losing his seat — the first time this has happened to a U.S. House majority leader since 1899 — was about more than present immigration concerns.

It is true that, especially during the closing weeks of victor David Brat's campaign, halting amnesty was the key issue. However, this might be thought of as the volcano erupting; the lava flowing down swept away Cantor's political career.

What pushed all of that fire and brimstone up in the first place?

Ordinary folks in Cantor's Richmond-based district were tired of him building a national profile at the expense of hearing their concerns. He was supposed to be their representative. Instead, the man was a full-time candidate for John Boehner's eventual replacement as House Speaker.

Beyond this, Cantor was one of Wall Street's most stalwart allies on Capitol Hill — a position for which there is fierce bipartisan competition. His support of "crony capitalist" schemes in which the government gives financial support, and an unfair market advantage, to certain businesses seems to be the straw which broke many a camel's back.

Surpassing even that, Cantor rarely seemed sympathetic toward the plight of his constituents. Richmond is far from the wealthiest of American cities, and aside from a few of its suburbs, the surrounding countryside isn't much better off.

Picture a region like that having a jet-set congressman whose campaign spends over $200,000 on steakhouse dinners alone. Brat, an until-now obscure economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, spent a comparable sum on his entire campaign.

When all was said and done, Brat stood outspent by a 40-to-1 margin. It's hard to imagine, but Cantor splurged roughly $5 million on his campaign.

The same voter who was unimpressed by this sort of thing isn't going anywhere. Brat's win had little to do with the Tea Party — none of its leading organizations endorsed him — and everything to do with deep-seated anger over America's socioeconomic decline.

Pundits and political strategists fear that since Republican congresspersons are now too scared to vote for amnesty, the party's popularity will plummet among Hispanics — 65 percent of which, according to Pew, are Mexican in heritage. Said popularity is not so important for congressional elections as it is presidential ones.

"GOP support for these positions doesn't cause Hispanics to vote Republican," Dr. Stephen Steinlight of the Center for Immigration Studies told me last year. "The largest amnesty took place under President Reagan, yet Hispanics gave his successor, George H.W. Bush, only 30 percent of their vote. Despite strong support for amnesty, neither George W. Bush nor John McCain came close to carrying the Hispanic vote. George W. Bush received an historical high of 40 percent and John McCain just 31 percent."

According to Dr. Steinlight, Republicans seem incapable of learning immigration isn't decisive. "Hispanic hostility to the GOP reflects an unbridgeable divide over economic policy and the role of government," he said. "Hispanics are anti-capitalist and want a bigger federal government dispensing larger entitlement. These views are anathema to Republicans, and compromise is impossible."

Aside from the Hispanic vote, there is a growing number of people from all ancestral backgrounds depending on public assistance programs for their livelihood. Of course, this bodes terribly for the GOP. Considering that the Party lost the last two presidential races, barely won in 2004, might not have truly won in 2000, and got clobbered in both 1996 and 1992, its prospects look more than fairly bleak.

What is probably best may sound like an anathema to most. The Republicans should forget about seriously contesting presidential elections. Instead, they ought to focus on shoring up workable majorities in Congress. This would allow the Party to have a wide diversity of opinions with the ability to coalesce around issues with broad-based support.

Why waste time trying to find somebody who appeals to all people when you could have many voices which speak to different audiences?

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Copyright 2014 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at joseph.f.cotto@gmail.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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