Tuesday’s stunning primary election defeat of Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor initiated speculation that partial blame may have been due to anti-Semitism. The Los Angeles Times described the event as “one of the greatest political upsets of modern times.” Cantor was the first sitting House majority leader to lose a primary race since the position was created in 1899.
Much of the conjecture about how his successful challenger, Dave Brat, could have done what he did has been around his immigration policy message, or even a general resurgence of tea party ideas. Yet one potential reason which requires examination is the possibility of anti-Semitism in the congressman’s conservative Virginia district. Eric Cantor is proud of his Judaism and his departure leaves the Republican Party without a single elected Jew in Washington. One Jewish blogger noted that there will now be more Jews in the Iranian parliament than the United States Congress.
Cantor was not the first established Republican House member to be defeated by Tea Party-centric challengers. With their consistent messages related to federal spending, immigration and the general inaccessibility of Washington elites, others have successfully struck chords with voters. However, of those who have seen defeat, none thus far have been Jewish.
In 2011, Cantor’s office received two threatening voice mails from Glendon Swift, an anti-Semite from Lenoir City, Tennessee. Swift’s messages were reported as profanity-laden and screaming with allegations that Swift was going to “destroy” Cantor, kill his wife and rape his daughter. Swift was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison in April 2012.
During the critical weeks leading up to this week’s election, Jewish radio commentator Mark Levin hosted Dave Brat on his show four times. Levin provided his ringing endorsement of the challenger, imploring his listeners to give money to the man’s campaign. Saying that Brat “would be a great member of Congress,” Levin told Brat “I’m all for you. I want you to win.”
Cantor’s loss was all the more astonishing in light of the fact that his campaign outspent Brat’s 40 to one. Polling inside Cantor’s campaign had placed him 30 points ahead of Brat.
Jewish blogger Ami Eden denies that Eric Cantor’s defeat could be traced to anti-Semitic sentiment. She acknowledges, however, that Jews feel threatened by politics that seek to put “the majority religion, which isn’t ours” at the center of public life. She suggests the possibility that such tactics could even violate Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. That Article directs that ” … no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Eden does not believe that the Virginia electorate is necessarily anti-Jew. “It’s just that they love Jesus.” She sees that as “David Brat’s main calling card.”
Some have suggested that engaging in public speculation of anti-Semitism is merely a tactic to defile David Brat, as well as those in Virginia’s seventh congressional district who voted for him. “Shameful” is how Eden describes such a ploy. “One can be pro-Christian without being anti-Jewish,” she wrote.
Matt Bai, a columnist with Yahoo News, said Cantor had become “trite and stilted” after years in House leadership. After members of Congress have been in office for a time “they begin to confuse obfuscation with meaning. They start to think they’re being cagey and persuasive when, really, they’re just being confounding,” he wrote. Bai that Eric Cantor’s defeat loss was anti-Semitic, speculating instead that it was possibly “an indictment of the culture of incumbency itself, and of the dysfunctional way in which a lot of Washington politicians get used to communicating, or don’t.”
By Gregory Baskin