Tuesday’s primary defeat of six term Utah Congressman Chris Cannon at the hands of political neophyte Jason Chaffetz was, without a doubt, the greatest electoral victory of the immigration control movement. The election was about one — and only one — issue: Chris Cannon’s long support of amnesty for illegal aliens.
Before Tuesday, there was not one contest where supporters of border security could say that their issue won the election. This is not to say that the immigration control has not been popular with the American people. Polls have consistently shown across the board support for enforcement and opposition to amnesty.
The grassroots of the Republican Party went into full on rebellion in the Summers of 2006 and 2007 when Bush, McCain, and Kennedy introduced their amnesty. Phone lines were shut down. The RNC saw fundraising hit new lows, with loyal Republicans vowing to never vote for, much less donate to, pro-amnesty politicians.
But at the ballot box, the voters did not always put their money where their mouth was. Illegal immigration failed to become the “silver bullet” issue that would save the GOP from a Democratic takeover. Immigration restrictionists JD Hayworth, John Hostettler, and Randy Graf — all of whom had very serious electoral problems unrelated to immigration — were all defeated. Then, John McCain — who had been the chief sponsor of both “comprehensive immigration reform” bills — won the Republican nomination for president.
None of these contests were mandates for amnesty. Graf, Hayworth, and Hostettler’s opponents all claimed to be tough on immigration, and John McCain won only after he started running ads saying he would oppose amnesty and “Secure the Border First.” Nonetheless, his victory certainly conveyed the message to many politicians that if they could weather the storm of angry phone calls, the voters would let them flip flop come Election Day.
This plan had worked well for Chris Cannon in the past. The Congressman has been one of the most active pro-amnesty Republicans in the House. He voted for over a dozen amnesty bills and co-sponsored seven. This got him praise from open borders groups like La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. Upon winning the “Excellence in Leadership” award from the latter, he told the crowd, “We love immigrants in Utah. And we don’t oftentimes make the distinction between legal and illegal. In fact I think Utah was the first state in the country to legislate the ability to get a driver’s license based on the matricula consular and of that I am proud.”
His liberal immigration record gave plenty of ammo to primary opponents who made anti-amnesty based challenges in 2004 and 2006. In both races, he began to talk tough in the weeks leading up to the primary. Upon reelection, he would continue to vote for amnesty.
Cannon tried the exact same tricks this year. He put up ads with a picture of a fence saying “Chris Cannon will replace ‘catch and release’ with ‘catch and deport’” He even erroneously accused his challenger Jason Chaffetz of being a supporter of amnesty.
Chaffetz responded that the Congressman “gets tough on immigration about two weeks before an election. That’s it.” He won in a 20 point landslide.
Jason Chaffetz says his victory “is a mandate to fight for conservative Constitutional values.” This is true, but aside from immigration, Cannon has generally fought for those values too. He has a 96% lifetime voting rating from the American Conservative Union and 100% from the NRA and the National Right to Life.
In addition to his conservative credentials, Cannon had numerous of other advantages going for him. He outspent Chaffetz by $600,000, and had George Bush — who is still popular in Utah — as well as the State’s two Republican Senators campaign for him.
Were it not for immigration, Cannon would not have had to worry about a primary challenger. Some may question why we should go after an erstwhile outstanding conservative just for his deviation on one issue. It is precisely because conservative activists will not let otherwise trustworthy politicians waiver on issues like guns, taxes, and abortion that they have been able to make them winning issues.
We will not be able to even begin to fix the crisis of illegal immigration until the politicians who got us into our current mess are held accountable. One down…