The big political news story today is Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)‘s triumph over challenger Joe Carr in the Tennessee GOP primary last night, proving that a Republican can vote for immigration reform and live to serve another day. Three Senate Republicans –Alexander, Lindsey Graham (SC), and Susan Collins (ME) — voted for S. 744, the upper chamber’s immigration bill last year, and they’ve all skated through their primaries. So did Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who got a lot of pre-primary grief this year from people who opposed her stance for immigration reform. As far as track records go, a tweet from Ana Navarro today probably expressed it best:
Taking stock of over-all GOP primary results, leads to inevitable conclusion that Cantor defeat was an anomaly due to Cantor & little else.
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) August 8, 2014
It’s worth noting, however, that Alexander prevailed despite how much Joe Carr tried to make the race into a referendum on immigration reform. It’s not just about Alexander’s Senate immigration bill vote. Joe Carr really worked to make himself into a Dave Brat / Steve King-style anti-immigrant firebrand. He had the support from Laura Ingraham, whom some painted as a kingmaker after she pushed Dave Brat to victory over Eric Cantor in Virginia. But it didn’t work.
I’m all in for Joe Carr. Look, he’s no nonsense, he’s a citizen legislator, he’ll be, and he’ll be someone who will actually listen to the people. Politicians at some point do have to listen to the concerns of the people, not just to the concerns of one or two big fat interest groups like either La Raza or Chamber of Commerce.
She wasn’t the only one. Sarah Palin trashed Alexander. So did Michelle Malkin. Traditional tea party groups might not have had a not to do with Joe Carr’s campaign, but that certain segment of right-wing pundits did. Breitbart — which was also given plaudits after Cantor’s defeat, for supposedly noticing trends which the mainstream media did not — wrote about polls which showed Joe Carr leading.
Joe Carr himself made the election almost entirely about immigration reform. As Breitbart wrote about his campaign last month:
Carr has spent most of his time focusing on Alexander’s record of supporting immigration reform, which the campaign sees as his Achilles heel.
“There’s no question it’s his greatest weakness, because it’s my greatest strength,” Carr said.
Carr repeatedly gave shout-outs to Jeff Sessions, one of the Senate’s most anti-immigrant members. He signed the pledge pushed by Laura Ingraham and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR, a hate group), which is so anti-immigrant that it even opposes all legal immigration. He went around saying things like, “Let me be perfectly clear, so that I’m not misunderstood, Sen. Alexander, so you’ll be able to understand this. No. More. Amnesty.”
And he still didn’t win. Yes, the political lesson of today should be that a Republican can vote for immigration reform and still win elections. But it should also be that Tea Partiers can demagogue as hard as they want to against reform — and it won’t be a winning strategy.