House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's loss in a Virginia primary is a blow to the kishkes (i.e. gut) for Jewish Republicans, who are now left leaderless and without a single Jewish congressman to take their mantle.
Jews are heavily represented among both chambers of Congress, with 12 senators and 22 members of the House. But all of those save Cantor belong to or align their votes with the Democratic party. (Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders, officially an independent, calls himself a socialist and largely votes Democratic.)
Cantor's loss means that the House is without a Republican Jew for the first time since 1959, the year New York's Seymour Halpern joined Congress. "Jews are so well represented on the Supreme Court. They’re so well represented in Congress," National Jewish Democratic Council president David Harris told Politico. "But as a professional political class, Jewish Republicans are just not part of that party."
That makes his soon-to-be departure more than just a symbolic blow to Jewish Republicans, who not long ago hoped he could become the first ever Jewish Speaker of the House. It will have real effects, as Politico explains:
Now, with Cantor’s defeat, there’s no longer a point man to help organize trips to Israel for junior GOP lawmakers, as Cantor routinely did. Jewish nonprofits and advocacy groups have no other natural person in leadership to look to for a sympathetic ear. No other Republican lawmaker can claim to have precisely the same relationship with gaming billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a primary benefactor of both the Republican Party and the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Those issues could be further hindrances for a Republican Party looking to gain more Jewish voters, who already heavily skew liberal and Democratic. In 2011, 65 percent of Jewish registered voters leaned Democratic, according to a Pew study. A larger Pew study last year among a broader definition of Jewish Americans had the Democratic-Republican leaning percentage at 70-22.
In winning the primary, Cantor's opponent David Brat played up his conservative bona fides, as he has a divinity degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary. That contrast opened the door for interpretations as to why Cantor lost. "Part of this plays into his religion," House political analyst David Wasserman told The New York Times. "You can’t ignore the elephant in the room." But the Times' Jonathan Martin noted on Twitter that although Cantor's religion had been a political issue when he was first elected, "i'd not heard in 14 years since."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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