ONE DAY after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) lost his primary race in Virginia’s 7th District, Washington was already treating it as a defining political moment of the decade. It’s a big deal, yes, but we believe — and hope — that it may not be quite as definitive as some are saying.
Analysts have declared immigration reform dead and right-wing populism on the rise. Some Republican members of Congress are indeed likely to view Mr. Cantor’s double-digit loss as proof that no Republican can safely support any plan that can be labeled as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. David Brat, Mr. Cantor’s victorious opponent, wrote last week that immigration was “the central policy issue in this race” before accusing Mr. Cantor, wrongly, of being “the No. 1 cheerleader in Congress for amnesty.”
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Others have sought to minimize the importance of the immigration issue, blaming Mr. Cantor for failing to control the conservative populist insurgency that he helped unleash, or simply for running a poor campaign or for sparking local resentment with his national activities and ambitions.
We won’t diminish the extent to which the immigration issue can motivate an important slice of the GOP base. Sure, according to an automated Election Day survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, 72 percent of registered voters in Mr. Cantor’s district favor comprehensive immigration policy, at least when it is not pitched as “amnesty.” Yet, as The Post’s Aaron Blake pointed out, the 23 percent who oppose such policy have outsize influence in Republican primaries. The reasons to fear working on a comprehensive immigration package are immediate and obvious, and the reasons to embrace the task are long-term.
But those long-term reasons include the national viability of the Republican Party and the good of the country. It will be bad for the party and for the nation if Republicans spend the next year, or the next few years, over-interpreting the lessons of Mr. Cantor’s defeat, concluding that the only safe move is pandering to the 23 percent by refusing to compromise on immigration or any other major issue.
On the same day that voters in Virginia’s 7th District were ejecting Mr. Cantor from office, South Carolina Republicans were handing Sen. Lindsey O. Graham a thumping victory in a deep-red state. Mr. Graham has been forceful in his support for reforming the nation’s immigration laws. He is no liberal, but he has nevertheless been the subject of nasty attacks from elements of the far right, in large part because he has been willing to talk to Democrats. Yet he still managed to capture more than 50 percent of the vote in his seven-way primary, avoiding a runoff contest. He will no doubt cruise to victory this fall.
Taking the long view might not be easy. But it is not as hard as some may fear. It is also pretty near the top of the definition of leadership.