Does anyone outside the media think Cantor’s Judaism cost him the election?
posted at 6:51 pm on June 11, 2014 by Noah Rothman
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who has been elected to Congress from Virginia’s 7th congressional district six times and who served as the Republican Majority Leader since 2011, is Jewish. This, some in the vaunted political class have convinced themselves, was recently discovered by a host of rabid tea partiers who descended like locusts on the polls on Tuesday where they vented their chauvinism. Even if Cantor’s Judaism was not the key reason for his downfall, those predisposed to lend this theory credence suggest it remains the “elephant in the room.”
It is easy to simply dismiss this silly catchall theory for why Cantor lost his seventh Republican congressional primary race to economics professor Dave Brat on Tuesday. That was my plan before the theory that Cantor’s Judaism contributed to his loss began surfacing in a number of respectable journalistic outlets.
“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,” read a report in The New York Times summarizing the analysis of Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman.
“Part of this plays into his religion,” Wasserman told The Times. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”
Why? Apparently, those rural bumpkins reapportioned into Cantor’s district did.
“Cantor actually won the less populous parts of Virginia’s Seventh,” observed The New Republic’s Jason Zengerle. “It was in the Richmond suburbs, which had always been Cantor’s base, where he got trounced by Brat.”
Moreover, as Zengerle observes, Brat did not make an issue of Cantor’s religious background in teh campaign. “[N]ot even in subtle ways by, say, attacking his support of Israel,” he wrote.
Do a little bit of digging however, as The Wall Street Journal’s Reid Epstein did, and you’ll find that Brat’s shrewd anti-Semitic campaign against Cantor goes back years.
“David Brat, the Virginia Republican who shocked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) Tuesday, wrote in 2011 that Hitler’s rise ‘could all happen again, quite easily,’” Epstein wrote. “Mr. Brat’s remarks, in a 2011 issue of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, came three years before he defeated the only Jewish Republican in Congress.”
But it is the reference to Hitler’s Germany that is likely to turn heads during Mr. Brat’s first full day as a tea party star.
The full context of his second Holocaust prognostication comes in a section about how if Christian people “had the guts to spread the word,” government would not need to “backstop every action we take.”
“They’re suggesting Brat is pro-Hitler?” an incredulous Ace at Ace of Spades remarked. “How else can one read their noting that Brat said that Hitler could rise again, and then mention that in reference to the defeat of the GOP’s only Jewish Congressmen as if they’re linked?”
While the logic behind the effort by some in the press to suggest that Republican voters in Virginia’s 7th were openly hostile to a Jewish congressman is… unsatisfying, the political motives behind that insinuation are clear as day.
“As Democrats seek to cement a public perception of the GOP as an intolerant and homogenous party, the defeat of the nation’s leading Jewish Republican over his support for more relaxed immigration laws can only help,” wrote Politico’s Alexander Burns.
For all the think pieces diving into Cantor’s loss, each purporting to advance a slightly more clever rationalization for the majority leader’s downfall, the simpler explanations are often more compelling. The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker offered the most persuasive before noon:
More I ask abt Cantor's primary, more sounds like he simply fumbled campaign. Running strategically sound race wldve negated everything else
— David M. Drucker (@DavidMDrucker) June 11, 2014
Incumbency is the advantage that trumps all others, unless you fail to capitalize on it. HotAir’s Ed Morrissey submits another compelling rationale for Cantor’s collapse:
Brat only spent $40,000 on the campaign, which would have barely drawn notice had it not been for the million dollars Cantor spent in raising Brat’s profile. Another axiom might have helped Cantor in this regard — never punch down. Had Cantor spent that money on positive retail politicking in his district rather than on an air war against an unknown, the end result may well have looked like McLaughlin’s polling.
These practical details are more likely to explain Cantor’s loss. The impact his religion had on his defeat is probably trivial and should be discounted by all serious political analysts. All serious political analysts, that is, who are not invested in advancing the impression that the GOP is “intolerant and homogenous.”