Cantor’s loss: The Jewish factor
Eric Cantor, the House of Representatives’ majority leader and only Jewish Republican, has officially been buried. One day after a stunning loss to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat–who ran an aggressive campaign vowing for free-market change and denouncing Congress’s bipartisan budget deal–the high-potential politician announced that he would resign his leadership post. Pundits and policy makers have wasted no time shoveling in the dirt, offering myriad explanations for the inevitability of Cantor’s fall from grace (despite nobody having predicted it beforehand). Many have homed in on one component of Cantor’s demise: the Jewish factor.
The New York Times argued that Cantor’s Jewishness had become a liability:
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.”
While many Jews didn’t agree with Cantor’s views (about 70 percent identify as Democrats), Democratic media strategist Steve Rabinowitz still told The Washington Post that his loss was still a blow to the tribe:
“He is not just Jewish, but proudly so. He wears it on his sleeve,” Rabinowitz said. “If you talk with partisan Democrats, they are rolling on the floor holding their stomachs, and partisan Republicans are very sad. But the mainstream of the community is also sad.”
“The partisan in me can’t help but be amused,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic media strategist who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House and now serves many Jewish organizations. “But the Jewish communal professional in me thinks it’s not a good thing for the community.”
On both sides of the aisles inside the Beltway, Washington Jews also expressed regret for Cantor’s loss:
Republican Jewish Committee president Matt Brooks told Politico the loss was “one of those incredible, evil twists of fate that just changed the potential course of history.”
“There are other leaders who will emerge, but Eric was unique and it will take time and there’s nobody quite like Eric in the House to immediately fill those shoes,” Brooks said. “I was certainly hoping that Eric was going to be our first Jewish speaker.”
In 2009, Moment profiled Cantor’s ascent to highest-ranked Jewish Republican in the history of the U.S. House. First elected in 2001, the Virginian quickly distinguished himself for his legislating skills and flexibility while remaining loyal to his constituents. From Southern Jewish boy to House minority whip, his ascent was seen as meteoric and, at the time, a sign of renewed vitality for the GOP.
In the article, Cantor never shies away from addressing his identity as both Jewish and Republican:
“It’s been an interesting sort of upbringing, being a Republican and being Jewish, but I found it allowed me to see America at its best.”
“Jews and Americans of every extraction can find under the GOP umbrella a party very willing to include them.”
On his observance:
“I maintain a somewhat kosher lifestyle,” says Cantor, who considers himself a Conservative Jew but worships at Keneseth Beth Israel, an Orthodox congregation in Richmond. “I don’t eat any non-kosher meat or chicken. I’m basically a vegetarian when I eat out.”
“Reagan was my inspiration,” says Cantor, who was 17 when the Gipper was elected. “I wasn’t even old enough to vote yet, but somehow he sparked something in me.”
“The way that I saw Reagan demonstrate leadership was that he had his set of principles, and it wasn’t that he was so adherent to them that he couldn’t bend, or talk to anyone else. He was artful in applying those principles and in coming up with solutions to problems.”
In a Wednesday press conference, Cantor once again connected his Judaism to his political outlook:
“You know, growing up in the Jewish faith, you know, I grew up, went to Hebrew school, read a lot in the Old Testament, and you learn a lot about individual setbacks. But you also read and you learn that each setback is an opportunity, and that there’s always optimism for the future. And while I may have had a — suffered a personal setback last night, I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of this country.”