Will Cantor's defeat kill immigration reform in the House?

That question implies that it was still alive, of course, but Republican leadership kept mentioning it as a possibility — although not on the terms of the Senate package passed last year, which will die at the end of this session without House action. Allahpundit suggested that John Boehner might choose to retire with Eric Cantor’s defeat and push an immigration-reform package this year, relying on House Democrats to do most of the heavy lifting to get it passed, along with a handful of like-minded Republicans. That, however, would turn a likely GOP wave election into at least a muddle, and certainly a blown opportunity — especially since, as poll after poll has shown, immigration reform is far down the list of voter priorities, even among the Hispanic voters this will supposedly woo to the GOP.

Politico’s Seung Min Kim makes the easy call that this will kill immigration reform for this session:

Immigration reform is almost certainly dead on Capitol Hill this year.

Many top sources close to the issue privately acknowledged after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shocking defeat Tuesday night that the already uphill battle for immigration reform was dealt the knockout blow.

Coming off President Barack Obama’s re-election, immigration reform was seen as an issue both parties could deal with quickly. Democrats wanted to deliver on promises made to their Latino backers and Republicans wanted to get the issue off the table to avoid reliving the electoral demographic nightmare of 2012.

But House GOP leaders have long said they wouldn’t bring up the Gang of Eight bill the Senate passed last year, and Cantor’s embrace of even piecemeal proposals was derided by opponent Dave Brat and tea party activists as “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants.

It’s not really that complicated. Immigration reform is simply too hot an issue to handle in an election year, and especially in the final months before a general election. If Republicans were heading toward an obvious defeat anyway, they might be tempted to bite the bullet and endure the pain all at once. Heading toward what appears to be a wave election in their favor, they have no particular reason to address this issue now. Better to wait until 2015 and look for a way to compromise with Democrats without giving away the store, especially on border security.

The only pressure to do otherwise is coming from the White House, which threatens executive action precisely at a time when the American public — and especially the Republican base — is growing angry over such actions from Barack Obama:

Tuesday’s result is also likely to raise pressure from the left on Obama to use executive authority to act on deportations. The White House said recently that Obama had asked for a delay of his administration’s deportation review until the end of the summer – in an effort to give House Republicans space to act on a legislative overhaul.

The last such executive action — the Taliban 5 swap — just blew up in Obama’s face, at least politically speaking. Even Democrats are beginning to wonder about the separation of powers and co-equal branches these days. Obama can try his hand with more such high-handed options, but he’s not going to win his party any more votes in the midterms, and he may end up doing damage to its prospects in 2016.

Democrats are trying persuasion for now, claiming that immigration wasn’t the reason that Cantor lost his primary:

Democrats are making the case that it was Cantor himself – not immigration – that dealt a powerful blow to the one-time rising Republican star’s political career. And they are releasing new data on Wednesday to back up their argument.

About 72 percent of registered voters in Cantor’s district polled on Tuesday said they either “strongly” or “somewhat” support immigration reform that would secure the borders, block employers from hiring those here illegally, and allow undocumented residents without criminal backgrounds to gain legal status – three key tenets of an overhaul, according to a poll by the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling and commissioned by the liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change.

Looking just at Republicans in Cantor’s district, the poll found that 70 percent of GOP registered voters would support such a plan, while 27 percent would oppose.

Meanwhile, Cantor was deeply unpopular in his district, the PPP poll found. About 63 percent of those surveyed in his district said they did not approve of the job Cantor has been doing, with 30 percent of registered voters approving. Among Republicans, 43 percent approved of Cantor’s job performance, while 49 percent disapproved, the survey found.

“Cantor didn’t lose because of immigration,” pollster Tom Jensen wrote in the memo obtained in advance by POLITICO. “He lost because of the deep unpopularity of both himself personally and of the Republican House leadership. Even in his conservative district voters still want immigration reform passed, and they want it this year.”

Well, they have a funny way of showing it, then. It’s true that immigration wasn’t the only reason Cantor lost, but it’s absurd to think it didn’t play any role. Besides, the issue for most of those opposed to the current immigration proposal isn’t theoretical, but its application with the Obama administration. They don’t trust Obama to “secure the borders” in a verifiable manner before plowing ahead with the rest of the reforms, and worry that this will create yet another flood of illegal immigration and even fewer resources to prevent it. The recent flood of children across the border, after all of the promotion of DREAM Act legislation, provides them some grounds for that worry.

It was that lack of trust in the Obama administration, and the continued insistence on proceeding on the basis of trust, that got Cantor crosswise with the base in the first place. Don’t expect other Republicans to ignore that lesson, especially when they can reset the discussion in January by taking the current Senate deal off the table and hopefully get a stronger bill from a Republican-controlled Senate in January. What’s the point of moving now, anyway?

Immigration reform, at least in its current form, is certainly dead now. And again, I’m not convinced it was ever alive since the New Year.