The House Majority leader, Eric Cantor, has earned a reservoir of affection around here with his book Young Guns, which we reviewed here, and with his constructive tone in his remarks at Washington and Lee University, his remarks at Wharton, and his comments on school choice.
There's an effort afoot to depict his defeat in yesterday's primary in Virginia as a defeat for comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, the candidate who defeated Mr. Cantor, David Brat, maintained a campaign web site issues page describing an open border as "an economic threat that our country cannot ignore" and claiming, "Adding millions of workers to the labor market will force wages to fall and jobs to be lost." Take that theory of the labor market to its logical extreme, and America should adopt a China-style one-child policy, because more children eventually graduating into the workforce "will force wages to fall and jobs to be lost." Given that Mr. Brat's career is as an economics professor, one is tempted to see the whole situation less as an example of the political potency of anti-immigrant themes, and more as an example of the continuing decline of intellectual standards in American academia.
Mr. Brat faulted Mr. Cantor for voting to increase the debt limit and to fund ObamaCare, for backing TARP, and for supporting some NSA data collection and wiretapping programs. Some of those votes were part of compromises that also brought concessions from Democrats on taxes and spending. Perhaps, as some have suggested, Mr. Cantor's campaign spending backfired by increasing Mr. Brat's name recognition, or Mr. Cantor lost touch with his home district as he focused on national politics.
Mr. Cantor was the only Jewish Republican in either the House or the Senate, and his defeat is a setback for those who would like to see Jews active on the center-right of American politics not just as donors, fundraisers, and intellectuals, but also as elected office-holders. I try not to get too enthralled with any individual politician, and Mr. Cantor has come in for some criticism here from time to time. Americans are rightfully fed up with Washington politicians in general, and to the extent that Mr. Cantor was one of them, one understands why voters would want to throw him out. But I do hope that he continues to contribute in some way to American politics and policy debates, because as politicians go, Mr. Cantor's voice on issues such as growth and income inequality was the sort of civil and principled and optimistic one that we could use more of, not less.