In Tuesday’s primary, Cantor was trapped in a crossfire over immigration reform. He attempted to strike a hard line against amnesty, dramatically scuttling a House vote on legislation that would make it easier for illegal immigrants serving in the U.S. military to become citizens.Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) cruised to an easy primary victory, even though he had a closer association with immigration reform. How did he survive? Josh Kraushaar writes at National Journal:
But Brat, echoed by high-profile conservative broadcasters and pundits, attacked Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, as soft on immigration. They noted that he’d spoken of reaching an accommodation with the Obama White House, perhaps allowing children born in this country to illegal immigrants to naturalize.
Cantor’s maneuvering on immigration was illustrative of a larger issue: a perception within Republican circles that Cantor, in his determination to succeed John Boehner as speaker, seemed more interested in positioning for the next phase of the nonstop news cycle than embracing a distinct agenda.
Further, Cantor — a self-styled Young Gun, who along with Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, was a symbol of Yuppie Republicanism — became a distant figure to many of his Virginia constituents, seen only on Sunday talk shows and in the pages of national newspapers.
Cantor’s priority was traveling the country, raising money from corporate and financial leaders. The torrent of Cantor-generated cash would shore up a smaller but more influential constituency for the often-aloof lawyer: a handful of conservatives within the Republican caucus who would decide the speakership.
Unlike other targeted Republicans who have rebranded themselves in the run-up to an election, Graham has stuck to his moderate principles on immigration (he supports comprehensive reform), the environment (he's argued climate change needs to be addressed), and Supreme Court justices (he voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan on the principle that senators should judge on qualifications, not ideology). In contrast to several other endangered Republican senators who spend most of their time in Washington—neighboring Sen. Thad Cochran, who's at risk of losing a runoff this month, is a prime example—Graham regularly returns home on weekends to rallies, party events, and American Legion posts, where he tells well-wishers to greet him by his first name. "Everyone calls him Lindsey back home, no one calls him Senator Graham," [Katon] Dawson said.
Graham's comfortable victory is a testament to the fact that mastering the fundamentals of politics—strong relationships with colleagues and maintaining regular connections with voters—still plays an outsize role in winning elections. As Slate's Dave Weigel pointed out, while many Republicans have lately lost primaries for ideological reasons, a disproportionate number were defeated because they're old. Cochran might have won his primary against Chris McDaniel if he campaigned more vigorously in the final week, but instead he faced late-breaking questions about his rustiness on the campaign trail.
That's never been an issue with Graham.