DALLAS, June 11, 2014 — In a shocking political upset, Virginia Congressman and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in his GOP primary. Despite internal polls before the election showing him up by 34 points, he was beaten by 11 points by previously unknown economics professor Dave Brat.
Cantor was the lone Jewish Republican in the House, and his loss was met with sadness by much of the Jewish community not marching in lockstep with the left wing of the Democratic Party. Cantor’s loss had different political actors with various agendas spinning their own narratives.
Democratic National Committee Leader Debbie Wasserman-Schultz quickly offered the predictable gibberish about right-wing Tea Party extremism. While Professor Brat holds views that fit in comfortably within the Tea Party movement, most Tea Party organizations gave him zero financial support, instead targeting Kentucky Senator and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, but Cantor was never at the top of their hit list.
Another narrative being offered is that Cantor was soft on illegal immigration. Brat did hammer Cantor on the issue, despite Cantor’s record of voting against most amnesty. A deeper analysis shows that illegal immigration was the final straw but not the real reason Cantor lost.
A very insightful analysis by Eric Erickson of Redstate offered up a very plausible theory. Cantor lost touch with his constituents by focusing more on his duties as Majority Leader than as the Virginia Seventh District Congressman.
The late House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s maxim about all politics being local still rings true. Cantor had a chance of becoming House Speaker, however he may have neglected local matters.
As for the Tea Party, liberals who despise the movement, and the people within, will say it is either an out-of-control beast or a movement that is completely dead but cannot come up with a consistent reason why.
While Cantor did lose and Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran is fighting for his political life, Graham survived and McConnell won his primary easily.
While most people would consider it wrong to vote for or against a candidate based on their race, gender or religion, Cantor mattered to the Republican Jewish community because out of 33 Jewish Members of the U.S. Congress, he was the sole Republican. Brian Sanders (VT) is an Independent.
Having him in a position of leadership was a source of pride for the overlooked politically conservative Jewish community.
Jewish Republicans Elan Carr and Adam King are running in neighboring California Congressional districts, but those districts are far more liberal than Cantor’s. The same is true for Lee Zeldin and Joe Kaufman, Republican Jews trying to win House seats in Long Island, New York and South Florida, respectively.
Cantor was relatively safe from liberal challengers. He lost for not being conservative enough. This was a surprising turn of events given that Cantor along with Wisconsin Congressman and 2012 Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan and Indiana Governor (and former Congressman) Mike Pence comprised the “Young Guns” moving the GOP to the right.
It is very important to note that while Cantor’s religion is an issue for Republican Jews around the country who believed in him, it was thankfully not an issue in his election loss. His district is mostly Christian, but the same voters who backed him for over a decade grew tired of him for reasons having absolutely nothing to do with religion.
Ironically, it was another proud politically conservative Jew who helped bring Cantor down. Radio host Mark Levin was one of the only prominent conservatives to turn away from Cantor and back Brat.
Levin follows his principles, and religious sentimentality did not interfere with his desire for a more conservative Congress.
If Brat loses in the general election, Cantor could run for the seat again in 2016. However, a Brat victory could provide an even better scenario. In that case, Brat gets to help shape conservative legislation nationally while Cantor runs his entire state.
Cantor’s district is more conservative than the state at large. Cantor immediately becomes a credible candidate to become the next Virginia Governor in 2017.
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While many people may wonder why Cantor’s religion matters, the answer is because Republican Jews have always been on the outside looking in. They are Jews in a Christian nation, and Republicans in a religious community that is overwhelmingly liberal Democrat. With former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman losing, the late Senator Arlen Specter abandoning the GOP, and now Cantor being defeated, an entire constituency has nobody to advocate for them in Congress.
So while some Tea Party conservatives and most liberal Democrats are celebrating, the Jewish Republican community suffered as crushing an election night defeat as Cantor himself did.