Conservative Media Decide Eric Cantor's Loss Is A “Referendum On Amnesty”

Right-wing media are using House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) loss to tea party challenger and anti-immigration advocate Dave Brat in a Republican primary to argue that the outcome was a referendum on immigration reform. In fact, a majority of American voters -- including Republicans in Cantor and Brat's Virginia district -- support immigration reform.

Rep. Eric Cantor Lost To Challenger Dave Brat In Virginia's Republican Primary

Tea Party Challenger Dave Brat Defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor By 11 Points In Virginia's GOP Primary. On June 10, tea party challenger Dave Brat, an assistant professor of sociology at private Randolph-Macon College, won Virginia's Republican primary, defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by 11 points. From The Washington Post:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), the chamber's second-ranking Republican, was badly beaten in a primary contest Tuesday by an obscure professor with tea party backing -- a historic electoral surprise that left the GOP in chaos and the House without its heir apparent.

Cantor, who has represented the Richmond suburbs since 2001, lost by 11 percentage points to Dave Brat, an economist at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va. It was an operatic fall from power, swift and deep and utterly surprising. [The Washington Post6/11/14]

NY Times: “It's Not Easy To Explain [Cantor's] Defeat.” The New York Times' Upshot argued that “it is not easy to explain [Cantor's] defeat,” and said that the media focus on Cantor's support for immigration reform is too simplistic because “other more aggressive supports of immigration legislation” like Lindsey Graham easily won their primaries.

It is not easy to explain his defeat, or the extent to which his campaign apparently underestimated the severity of the threat posed by David Brat, a Tea Party-backed economics professor.


Much of the early news media coverage, especially on Twitter, focused on immigration overhaul as the likely cause of Mr. Cantor's defeat. Mr. Cantor took a somewhat more moderate stance on the issue by supporting a pathway for young undocumented immigrants to gain legal status.

But other and more aggressive supporters of immigration legislation, including Speaker John Boehner and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, easily won their primaries. [The New York Times6/10/14]

Right-Wing Media Use Brat's Win To Claim Americans Are Against Immigration Reform

Fox News' Steve Doocy: Brat's Win A “Referendum On Amnesty” Because Cantor Supported Citizenship For Young Undocumented Immigrants. On the June 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy framed Cantor's defeat as a “referendum on amnesty because Eric Cantor had been pushing some form of amnesty for some of the DREAMers”:

DOOCY: To many, what it became was a referendum either on the Washington establishment -- you know, Washington is not listening to me and I can do something about it with my one single vote. And it also became a referendum on amnesty because Eric Cantor had been pushing some form of amnesty for some of the DREAMers. Nonetheless, Mr. Brat did win. It was stunning. [Fox News, Fox & Friends6/11/14]

Conservative Pundit Laura Ingraham: Brat's Win Proves That “Establishment Viewpoint On Immigration Is Precisely Wrong.” Fox and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham also used Cantor's defeat to claim that “the establishment viewpoint on immigration is precisely wrong” and warned other lawmakers to “learn something” or “consign themselves to the dustbin in political history”:

INGRAHAM: The establishment can either learn something from this or they can consign themselves to the dustbin in political history.


INGRAHAM: What happened last night demonstrates, Steve and all of you watching right now, that the establishment viewpoint on immigration is precisely wrong. It's an issue to use to build the Republican majority with blacks, Latinos, Asians, and single women. This is a winner for Republicans if they play it the right way, and in 2016, I'd be looking at this Jeb Bush issue right now 'cause Jeb Bush, I think, is a lot weaker today than he was 24 hours ago. [Fox News, Fox & Friends6/11/14]

Daily Caller Used Cantor's Primary Loss To Claim Americans Oppose Immigration Reform. The Daily Caller used Cantor's defeat to claim that “public opinion -- and especially opinion among GOP-friendly voters -- has moved steadily against the immigration increases sought by progressives.” But the Caller supported its claim by highlighting two polls that  asked whether they approved or disapproved of the way President Obama is handling the issue of illegal immigration it did not ask respondents whether they support or oppose specific immigration reform policies. [Daily Caller, 6/11/14]

In Fact, Americans Overwhelmingly Support Immigration Reform

Brookings Institute-Public Religion Research Institute: 62 Percent Of Americans Support A Pathway To Citizenship For Undocumented Immigrants. A poll released on June 10 from the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings Institute shows that 62 percent of Americans favor allowing undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, while only 19 percent said they should be deported. Key findings include:

Current support for a path to citizenship is nearly identical to support levels one year ago (March 2013) when 63% of Americans supported a path to citizenship for immigrants who are living in the United States illegally.

Attitudes about the cultural and economic impact of immigrants have become more positive. At present, 62% of Americans favor providing a way for immigrants who are currently living in the United States illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, while 17% support allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and roughly 1-in-5 (19%) favor a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Consistent with findings from March 2013, majorities of self-identified Democrats (70%), independents (61%), and Republicans (51%) continue to favor a path to citizenship for immi­grants living in the country illegally. Notably, Republicans are roughly three-times more likely than Democrats to favor identifying and deporting all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally (30% vs. 11%).

Less than 4-in-10 (37%) Americans who are part of the Tea Party movement favor allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to become U.S. citizens, while 23% favor allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens; notably, 37% favor a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants in the U.S. illegally, the highest among all partisan groups. [Brookings Institute, 6/10/14]

Pew Research: “Seven-In-Ten Americans (71%) Support A Path To Legalization For Undocumented Immigrants.” A Pew Research survey from January 2014 found that 71 percent of Americans support a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants:

Seven-in-ten Americans (71%) support a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, our survey from June 2013 found, and 77% say any legislation establishing such a process also should increase border security. But the public is divided on whether people in the country illegally should be allowed to pursue legal status while border improvements are being made (49%) or only after effective border control is established (43%). We further explore Americans' complex feelings about immigration in our key data points. [Pew Research, 1/27/14]

New Republic: “Evidence That Immigration Reform Isn't Actually A Huge Intra-GOP Liability Lies Everywhere In Plain Sight.” The New Republic pointed out that immigration reform is not a “poisonous” issue for GOP leaders, and cited Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who advocates for comprehensive immigration reform and recently won his party primary in South Carolina:

To the contrary, evidence that immigration reform isn't actually a huge intra-GOP liability lies everywhere in plain sight. Senator Lindsey Graham -- a famous conservative bête noire who co-authored, voted for, helped pass, and continues to support comprehensive immigration reform -- won his primary handily. In South Carolina. The same night Cantor lost. [New Republic6/11/14]

Pew Poll: Tea Parties Are More Moderate On Immigration Reform Than GOP Leaders. A February 2014 poll from Pew Research found that 56 percent of self-described Tea Party voters support undocumented immigration staying in the U.S. legally, while only 40 percent of Tea Partiers said they oppose giving them legal status:

Republicans generally favor finding a way to allow unauthorized immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally (64%), including a majority of Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the tea Party (56%). But just 32% of Republicans overall and a quarter of Tea Party Republicans (25%) want those here illegally to be able to apply for citizenship. [Pew Research Center, 2/27/14]

Republicans In Cantor's District Support Immigration Reform

Public Policy Polling: Majority Of Election Day Voters, Including Republicans, Support Some Immigration Reform. Politico reported that a majority of voters polled on the day of the Cantor-Brat primary election - including a majority of Republicans - support some kind of immigration reform:

About 72 percent of registered voters in Cantor's district polled on Tuesday said they either “strongly” or “somewhat” support immigration reform that would secure the borders, block employers from hiring those here illegally, and allow undocumented residents without criminal backgrounds to gain legal status - three key tenets of an overhaul, according to a poll by the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling and commissioned by the liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change.

Looking just at Republicans in Cantor's district, the poll found that 70 percent of GOP registered voters would support such a plan, while 27 percent would oppose.


“Cantor didn't lose because of immigration,” pollster Tom Jensen wrote in the memo obtained in advance by POLITICO. “He lost because of the deep unpopularity of both himself personally and of the Republican House leadership. Even in his conservative district voters still want immigration reform passed, and they want it this year.” [Politico6/11/14]