Mark Shields: Reeling from Virginia
By Mark Shields
Let’s be perfectly blunt. Ever since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his Virginia primary to the underfunded Dave Brat, we political pundits (yes, I’m a card-carrying member) have been publicly embarrassing ourselves. Within hours of the polls closing, commentators and analysts, none of whom had predicted Cantor’s even being in trouble, were arrogantly telling the world exactly why long-shot Brat won — and what his victory meant for Congress, the country and the Republican Party.
Sorry, but as somebody — it was either Winston Churchill or Ozzy Osbourne — wisely noted, the winners get to write history. That, in this case, would be Brat, who campaigned as an unwavering opponent of comprehensive immigration reform, calling it “the most symbolic issue that captures the difference between myself and Eric Cantor in this race, but it also captures the fissure between Main Street and Wall Street.” He argued that Wall Street and “the Chamber of Commerce” both “want cheap labor, and that’s going to lower wages for everybody else.”
For House Republicans, for the foreseeable future, immigration reform legislation has become their third rail of American politics — a place of danger to be carefully avoided as potentially fatal to their own political survival. Nobody can explain House Republicans better than Tom Davis, a former eight-term congressman from Virginia as well as onetime chairman of the campaign committee responsible for electing Republicans to the House.
Asked by Audie Cornish on NPR if tea party House Republicans were now confident that they were winning, Davis was candid: “Well, they are in many ways and having seen Cantor defeated sends chills down the spine of members when it comes to taking a vote on compromising or working with the president, because you can topple the majority leader — who is seen as the most conservative member of the Republican leadership, and he is not conservative enough. What does that mean for me?”
Immigration reform is officially dead, killed by House Republicans. The Democrats, with a president whose negative sixth-year job rating is a lot closer to that of the unpopular George W. Bush than to the soaring numbers earned by Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, don’t have a historical precedent to give them any realistic confidence about winning a third consecutive White House term in 2016. But the GOP now appears determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of potential victory by further alienating Latino voters, Asian voters and all voters who, for example, believe that we, Americans, don’t punish children for the “sins” of their parents.
This value was well-expressed some 13 years ago by the governor of the first state to pass, by a vote of 142-1 in the state House and by 27-3 in the state Senate, a law to permit academically qualified high school graduates who were in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition at state universities. Here is what that governor said: “We must say to every child learning in (our) classrooms, ‘we don’t care where you came from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there.’ And that vision must include the children of undocumented workers.”
Those were the words of the governor of the first state in the nation to pass its own Dream Act, Republican Rick Perry of Texas. The year was 2001. Three years later, Bush would win 44 percent of the Latino vote against John Kerry. For a Republican Party that cannot even speak the words “undocumented workers,” sadly, that past is not a prologue.