Cantor is also the only Republican in the House who attends synagogue, not church. After his loss, I made an assertion in a New York Times article that part of this cultural disconnect “plays into his religion,” which ignited a small social media firestorm. To clarify, by no means was I alleging that the district’s primary electorate is the least bit anti-Semitic.
However, in countless southern primaries, Christian GOP candidates have emphasized their religious values and used evangelical language and imagery to establish a connection and comfort level with primary voters. This is something Cantor could never do, and he tended to emphasize his family over his faith. His opponent, Brat, however, earned a business degree from Hope College (a small Christian school in Michigan) and a divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, and referred to his victory as a “miracle,” adding, “God gave us this win.”
Dozens of people on Twitter have countered this idea with some variation of this question: If Cantor’s cultural dissimilarity was to blame, how did he keep winning for 14 years? The answer is that he was never really challenged. In 2000, Cantor’s last competitive race, he won by just 263 votes in the primary over state Sen. Stephen Martin, a social conservative who only raised about a quarter of the money Cantor spent but had strong support from evangelicals. And that was before Cantor was saddled with the epithet of “Washington insider.”