The stunning, convincing, and unexpected victory of economics professor David Brat over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in the 10 June Republican primary in Virginia’s seventh congressional district very likely puts an end to the already small chance that the Senate-passed immigration reform bill can become law in the foreseeable future. That, anyway, is the view of political commentators from a number of the major media outlets.
Despite spending only a small fraction of the more than $1 million Cantor spent in the weeks leading up to the voting, Brat succeeded, apparently, at painting Cantor as soft on immigration. Commentators are pointing out that immigration reform appears to have strong support in Virginia’s seventh district, and pro-reform politicians are trying to spin the issue differently—Cantor lost touch with his constituents; Cantor failed to embrace immigration reform wholeheartedly enough—but most commentators clearly feel that Cantor’s defeat makes immigration radioactive for Republicans. The clock is ticking: The Senate-passed immigration bill dies when the current Congress ends.
Brat is chair of the economics and business department at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. His academic specialties include macroeconomic growth, international trade, and business ethics. Not surprisingly, economics plays a role in his stated position on immigration. “Adding millions of workers to the labor market will force wages to fall and jobs to be lost,” he says on his campaign website. “The Chamber [of Commerce] wants low-skilled cheap labor; Mark Zuckerberg wants high skilled cheap labor, but, at the end of the day, what they have in common is that they ALL want cheap labor & Eric Cantor wants to give it to them,” a campaign press release states. In a radio interview, Brat added: “The best thing for the home country is to end the political corruption there and so we shouldn’t take the very people, the high skilled PhDs and masters out of the home country, they need to stay there, take care of the political corruption and dictators back home, so we can all trade and get rich together.”
Those latter views are beside the point if, as many suppose, Brat won the current immigration debate just by winning the Republican primary. Nevertheless, the months until the congressional election in November are likely to be lively at Randolph-Macon College. Brat’s Democratic opponent is a faculty colleague, assistant professor of sociology Jack Trammell.