The Republican Party is going through a time of upheaval and change as its base gets steadily more conservative. Eric Cantor’s defeat at the hands of unknown Tea Partier Dave Brat was a clear sign that the party is changing and there are no shortage of theories as to what it all means. The trend of the moment, however, is definitely moving toward a more conservative side of politics. This is evident not only in Cantor’s defeat, but in the other races going on in Republican politics, and clearly shows that the Republican party is only getting more and more conservative; almost to ridiculous levels. The answer to the question of whether a defeat like Eric Cantor’s could happen again is almost too easy. The answer is yes.
The growing conservatism of the Republican party is what made the House Majority Leader’s defeat possible. By all accounts, including his opponent, Cantor should have won. He had the name recognition, the money, and the support of prominent Republicans like John Boehner, but it was not enough to save his seat from a Tea Party challenger who billed himself as the true believer in Republican principles. One of the key issues he attacked Cantor on was immigration, calling the Majority Leader’s stance “amnesty.” According to Brat, his win was a “miracle from God” that proved that “dollars don’t vote, people do.” Indeed, it seems that money was a non-factor in his campaign. He was not only outspent, but Cantor’s campaign spent more money just in steak houses than Brat did on his entire campaign.
It is Brat’s claims about his party affiliation, however, that are most interesting in the context of where the Republican party is headed. He actually claims that he is not a Tea Partier, despite having the widespread support of tea party affiliates. According to him, “it wasn’t a contest between the tea party and the Republicans… I ran on the Republican principles.” Nevertheless, he had to acknowledge that he won the race because of the tea party backing he received. The implication of both these statements and the vilification of his opponent by Brat’s campaign is that a mainstream Republican like Cantor is not exactly a conservative, or at least not conservative enough.
This is going to be a recurring theme in Republican party politics, as some commentators have already observed. Sitting Republicans do not want to share the senior Republican’s fate and are now on alert. They do not want to experience the type of defeat Cantor did and they are aware that it could happen to them if they are not wary, but it is not just mainstream Republicans who are at risk. Republican voters are showing an increasingly extreme right-wing point of view. If it continues to trend that direction, then even hardcore conservatives will suffer if they are perceived to be too left. Sitting Republicans and upcoming candidates have been put on notice: they must line up or lose.
On the other hand, tea partiers are finding a new source of hope in the story of Cantor’s defeat. Extreme right-wing Georgia candidate, Jody Hice, compared it to an earthquake that he hopes will shake things up and give to him the Republican nomination for congress in his district. Like Brat, Hice is an unknown and a tea partier, even if he will not say he is. Instead, Hice proudly calls himself a “constitutionalist” and is running on a platform of extreme right-wing beliefs that most people associate with the tea party.
Hice, however, has no idea how the United States Constitution actually works, judging by comments in his 2012 book It’s Now or Never: A Call to Reclaim America. In this book, he claims that Muslims have no right to freedom of religion protections given by the First Amendment of the Constitution. He writes, “Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure, and as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.” Basically, Islam is more of a political party than a religion in Hice’s view, which is enough for him to claim that the Constitution does not apply to Muslims.
With this reasoning, Hice himself does not qualify for First Amendment protections as a politician who is basing most of his policy decisions on his religious faith. If he is trying to say that Islam is not a religion because its members are involved in politics, then he has no leg to stand on. In fact, in the United States, which he holds to be a Christian nation, it is arguable that Christianity is a political structure. The current composition of the United States Congress is 56 percent Protestant and 31 percent Catholic. Less than one percent of the Congress is Muslim, a whopping two people out of the 553 total members. Only three presidents have not claimed to be Christian and they only claimed to be unaffiliated – not some other religion. For the record, those presidents were Andrew Johnson, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Hice, however, makes no argument that Christianity is anything other than a religion and vigorously maintains that its religious liberty is under attack.
Hice, who has compared himself to Brat, claims that he is a true conservative and a vote for him will send a clear message to the political establishment, including fellow Republicans. “No more business as usual in Washington.” After Cantor’s defeat, however, Republicans are acutely aware that the business is changing and that it poses a danger to them. The Republican base is becoming ever more radically conservative, enabling far-right candidates like Brat to beat well-known, well-funded politicians like the soon-to-be former Majority Leader. It is this fact that gives campaigners like Hice the ability to run on a tea party platform. If Hice and others like him get elected, business really will stop being usual or even constitutional, if Hice’s comments are any indication. A defeat like Cantor’s could certainly happen again, and that fact should have many in the Republican establishment very worried.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury