Cantor Loses House Leadership: Is Immigration or Party Split to Blame?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Where Representative Eric Cantor (R-Va.) once stood lies a tangled ball of political string, with at least one end of it tied to immigration. Some blame the issue — a central focus for both parties, but one that has Congress impotent — for Cantor’s loss of the House majority leader position. He himself blames a rift in the GOP for his loss, a supposed fissure in the party that’s becoming old news. Why not both?

The Tea Party has been a topic of concern for the GOP for some time now as a source of much of the ideological division on the Right, and Cantor spoke at his resignation on the need for Republicans to step beyond their “minor” differences in order to have a strong conservative Congress “so that we may all benefit from a proper check and balance,” according to The New York Times. “There is a divide within our party,” said Cantor in an interview with ABC. “I think that what we need to focus on, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to do something about, bridging this divide,” he said, also noting that his loss at the primary had come as a shock. “I don’t think anybody in the country thought that the outcome would be what it was.”

Putting forth what may be the hard cold reality Cantor needs to face, Chair of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus said he didn’t think Cantor had lost because the party was split. Instead, he told CBS, that Cantor lost because that’s what happens when so many are vying for the same position — sometimes you lose. “I don’t think it’s divided at all,” said Priebus, claiming Cantor’s problem was local. “I think you have districts that are 85 percent Republican and more than one Republican wants to be a congressman, and sometimes more than one person wants to be a senator,” he said, claiming that even when someone such as Cantor does a good job at the national level, sometimes they lose out in local elections. The one area he did admit to some disagreement though, was immigration, noting that Democrats “don’t agree on everything either,” but allowing that while “there is consensus that the immigration system is broken,” within the GOP, “how to fix it is another issue.”

Tea Party members are strongly against a pathway to citizenship, but not all Republicans feel the same — a distinction that will be of vital importance should Democrats retain some strength in Congress when all is said and done with midterm elections. While some claim that Cantor’s softer stance on immigration — that young illegals without control or understanding of their situation should not be held accountable — was the reason for his loss, while his opponent, David Brat, a member of the Tea Party, takes a much more hard line on immigration. His ads hit on Cantor’s immigration position, which cantor himself described to ABC as having “never wavered” despite attacks to the contrary.

Whether voters in his district decided to vote against Cantor for immigration reasons or not — and as he points out, polls will likely be done picking the question apart till there’s nothing left — his loss does draw attention to this ideological split in the GOP which is certainly present. This is unfortunate in that it may dissuade politicians from voicing positions unpopular with their constituents, but these less extreme opinions are the very ones that have the greatest chance of seeing bipartisan support — and ultimately would lead to the right kind of legislation, morally and economically. As political science Professor Peter D. Salins wrote in an op-ed with the New York Post, there is a “human capital windfall” to be had given the right legislation and a solid bipartisan immigration reform. Salins approaches the topic of the Republican immigration stance by looking at it economically, rather than as a human rights issue as so many Democrats do.

“Most illegal immigrants will not be leaving the country,” writes Salins, “either voluntarily through ‘self-deportation’ as suggested by Mitt Romney, or involuntarily through actual deportation, notwithstanding the current administration’s aggressive efforts.” On this assumption he crafts the rest of his argument for the fiscal advantage, so it is upon this item that disagreements most effectively hinge. Given the ability to effectively remove illegal immigrants from the country, amnesty becomes less economic and more a social and humanitarian issue — though this is not an entirely unfamiliar angle for the GOP. Just look at Jeb Bush.

“The economic contribution of currently illegal immigrants could be vastly greater,” said Salins, noting what illegal immigrants already pay in taxes to the U.S. government. “If their status were legalized, the country would realize a human capital bonanza as millions of young illegal immigrants would have the motivation and means to go to college and millions of their parents would be free to further their education and training and become more productive in their careers,” claims Salins. His argument does, in some specifics, turn on itself, as he points out that illegal immigrants are not the only lawbreakers — that businesses do so too in hiring them, then points to payroll taxes as income for the U.S. government. This entirely ignores the issue of illegal immigrants paid under the table untaxed, but often paid considerably lower than legal salaries — salaries that for some are sent home rather than poured back into the economy. However, in some ways this would only reinforce his argument that amnesty would increase tax revenue and would improve jobs for those already working here.

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