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Was Eric Cantor’s loss a Jewish thing?

by Ami Eden, JTA

June 12, 2014 | 12:19 pm

<em>Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, delivers an address titled “An America that Leads” at the Virginia Military Institute on Feb. 17, 2014. Photo courtesy of the House Majority Leader’s Office</em>

Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, delivers an address titled “An America that Leads” at the Virginia Military Institute on Feb. 17, 2014. Photo courtesy of the House Majority Leader’s Office

David Wasserman went there.

From a post-election New York Times story:

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative.

“Part of this plays into his religion,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

My first reaction to reading this was — yes, it’s true that there will now be more Jews in the Iranian parliament than Jewish Republicans in Congress, but hold your horses.

Cantor is hardly the first establishment GOP lawmaker to go down at the hands of a Tea Party-minded challenger hammering away on immigration, federal spending and the general out-of-touchness of Washington elites. And those other deposed Republican incumbents weren’t Members of the Tribe. So this isn’t a case where there’s a purge that conveniently begins and ends with the only Jew in the room.

It was a Jewish, conservative radio talk show – Mark Levin – who helped lead the charge against Cantor.

Jon Stewart (sort of) weighed in Wednesday night with this clip from David Brat’s victory speech (jump to about 3:45):

The Times followed up with a second-day story giving the Jewish issue the full treatment:

The answer to [whether people voted against Cantor because of his Jewishness], political analysts and Jewish leaders in Richmond say, is no: Mr. Cantor, who resigned as House majority leader on Wednesday, effective July 31, was toppled because voters saw him as out of touch. Mr. Cantor appeared to give a nod to the religion issue on Wednesday, when he opened a news conference by saying that “growing up in the Jewish faith” he had “read a lot in the Old Testament, and you learn about setbacks.”

But analysts do say that Mr. Brat — who has a divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and often invokes God in his speeches — appeals to Christian conservatives in a way that Mr. Cantor simply cannot.

The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg hit upon the same theme, arguing that it isn’t anti-Jewish for traditional-minded Christian voters to feel more comfortable with a candidate who reflects their religious values:

Right now, the main point is that one can be pro-Christian without being anti-Jewish. Practically speaking, Jews feel threatened by a political movement that seeks to put religion — the majority religion, which isn’t ours — at the center of the nation’s public life. It’s exclusionary. It arguably violates the Constitution, which says (Article VI) that there may not be any “religious test” for public office. The Christian right is all about judging candidates for office by their religion — by which they mean the values that the candidates bring to the table. Judging candidates by their values sounds like it ought to be center-stage in politics. But how do you do that without applying a religious test? Christian conservatives say the clause bars legislation that would apply such a test, not the personal views of the voters.

It’s not that they don’t like Jews. I’d bet that 90% of the 36,000 zealots who turned out to vote for David Brat on Tuesday (vs. 29,000 for Cantor) don’t have an anti-Semitic bone in their body. It’s just that they love Jesus. They want more religious values guiding and governing our public life. And by religious values they mean Christian values. That’s David Brat’s main calling card.

Jon Podhoretz, noting that Cantor has served his district for more than two decades, says it’s all B.S.:

Eric Cantor is a proud Jew, and it is indeed unfortunate that the Republican party is left without a single Jewish elected voice in Washington. But his Judaism had nothing to do with his loss, and the only reason for suggesting otherwise is to tar David Brat and the voters of the seventh congressional district in Virginia with the taint of anti-Semitism. Shameful.

Writing for Yahoo News, Matt Bai focused on Cantor’s coming down with a severe case of Washington incumbent-speak:

In person and offstage, Cantor can be thoughtful and candid, very much unlike the villainous geek Democrats portray him to be. But you just have to follow Cantor’s Twitter feed — a droning mix of voting announcements, attacks on the White House and meaningless non sequiturs — to understand how trite and stilted his projection of himself had started to sound after years in leadership….

I wasn’t at the district convention last month where delegates actually booed Cantor and then voted down his pick for local party chairman, but it’s a safe bet that what they heard from Cantor, as he attacked his challenger from the podium, was that same condescending tone, as if aimed at a C-SPAN camera and not a crowd of voters whose support he badly needed. There’s some garbled audio of that speech bouncing around YouTube; it sounds about as heartfelt and spontaneous as your average consent decree.

Speaking to Talking Points Memo, a former GOP aide in the House played the Prada-Davos card:

“He lost because he spent more time galavanting around the country, raising his profile for Speaker/potential VP nominee than tending to the folks in his district,” said the aide, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “He wears Prada shoes with lifts and regularly attends Davos. None of those things make him a bad man, but they do make him an absentee representative for the people of his district.”

 Another theory floating around is that Democratic voters took advantage of Virginia’s open primary system to stick it to one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House.

Whether or not religion played a role in Cantor’s defeat, don’t expect Jewish Dems to show any sympathy for their co-religionists on the other side of the aisle.

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