The shocking defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is quickly being cast as the final nail in the coffin for immigration reform this year.
That's a shame — not the least because that's precisely what the tea party and other conservative groups wanted when they rallied behind upstart challenger David Brat, who easily beat Cantor in Tuesday's Republican primary in Virginia's 7th District.
It's not like Cantor was "soft" on immigration. In fact, he has helped block consideration of a bipartisan Senate package passed last year that included a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here. Rather, he merely expressed willingness to consider piecemeal steps, such as legal status for those brought here as children.
But even those small fixes to our badly broken immigration system go too far for some conservatives. Brat, a little-known college professor who was vastly outspent, pilloried Cantor as favoring "amnesty," not letting the facts get in his way.
Progress on immigration reform was going to be extremely difficult even before Cantor's loss. Now, reform foes are sending a message that crossing them is political suicide.
Some Republicans had started to become more open on the immigration issue, realizing that our country is becoming more diverse and their party's long-term future hangs in the balance. They should not falter now.
They include Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock, who last October became the first House Republican to endorse a comprehensive reform bill introduced by House Democrats and who knows how important a common-sense solution is to the Central Valley and the rest of California. He is also leading the charge for a bill that would make it easier for undocumented children to become citizens by enlisting in the military.
While Cantor doesn't have to give up the seat he first won in 2000 until January, he announced Wednesday that he will step down as House majority leader on July 31. He threw his support behind Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the third-ranking House Republican, to succeed him in the post. McCarthy has also voiced support for incremental changes, including limited legal status for some undocumented immigrants; his role on the issue will only grow.