I’m late to this story but Mickey Kaus and David Steinberg are all over it. You know the background here: Eric Cantor, who’s been on the outs with House conservatives lately and who’s championed immigration reform for DREAMers for more than a year, is suddenly facing a surprisingly tough primary challenge in Virginia from Dave Brat, who’s attacked him for being soft on amnesty. How tough? Tough enough that Cantor recently ran away from Jeff Denham’s ENLIST Act for DREAMers despite having expressed support for it before. Tough enough that he’s now aired not one but two ads in his district attacking Brat by name, something a well-known incumbent is naturally loath to do against a little-known challenger unless he fears he’s in trouble. Tough enough, even, that Cantor’s team sent out a mass mailer to voters celebrating him as a, er … stalwart amnesty opponent.

Coincidentally, Democrat Luis Gutierrez, the House’s most vocal immigration champion, decided that today would be a perfect time to visit Virginia and protest Cantor for being such a hard-ass on amnesty. Which is funny because, as both Kaus and Steinberg note, Cantor and Gutierrez were part of a House delegation that toured America for three days last year to celebrate — ta da — immigration. They are, in other words, both committed to this cause. And if the cause requires them to pretend to be enemies temporarily in the name of protecting Cantor’s seat, so be it. Kaus knows kabuki when he sees it:

I thought it was weird when, a few weeks ago, Cantor put out an angry press release attacking Obama on immigration after what appeared to have been a pleasant phone call with the President. Cantor couldn’t be staging this fake fit in order to use it later in the campaign, could he? That would be too Kabuki! But, sure enough, Cantor’s new mailer cites the April phone call incident — even referring to Talking Points Memo‘s report on his press release. (“Cantor Torches Immigration Reform After Call With Obama.”) Tough guy–stands up to the President to his face in a sharply worded post-event memo.

OK, maybe there are some subtle things going on here, in the Kabuki space. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the Dems’ most flamboyant pro-amnesty crusader, has announced plans to hold a pro-legalization event in Cantor’s Richmond, Virginia ‘backyard’ tomorrow. This comes after other amnesty advocates decided to denounce Cantor by name as “the No. 1 guy standing between the American people and immigration reform.” It sure looks like Gutierrez (who has, after all, gone on tour with Cantor in support of immigration reform) and his allies realize that a shocking Cantor primary defeat would effectively kill off amnesty this year. So they’ve gone into action to help their friend win by setting him up as an anti-amnesty giant — a message that conveniently dovetails with Cantor’s mailer. It’s almost as if they have meetings to plan these things!

Bingo. What better way to sell Cantor as an anti-amnesty hero to skeptical conservatives in his home district than to have Gutierrez, who once said that his only loyalty is to the immigrant community, ostentatiously protesting him right in his own backyard? If Brat upsets the House majority leader by running hard against immigration, terrified House Republicans will head for the hills on immigration reform; protecting Cantor is thus the smart play for reform fans, but naturally Gutierrez has to play dumb about that since exposing the ruse would backfire on Cantor completely. That’s why, when Steinberg dialed up Gutierrez’s office and asked them if it wasn’t perhaps curious that he would choose to express his upset at Cantor at a time and manner that’s actually really helpful to Cantor politically, they dismissed the accusation as silly — despite admitting that they’re familiar with Cantor’s mailer.

And yes, Gutierrez did hold his rally today. With Cantor’s name prominently mentioned, of course, to reassure tea partiers who open up the newspaper tomorrow and see the photos that Eric Cantor is amnesty’s worst nightmare.

“The one man blocking immigration reform.” That’s better ad copy for Cantor than the RNC could ever come up with.

Is he going to get away with it? Here’s Mark Levin at the Right Scoop confronting the possibility.