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“The Big Tent Just Got Smaller”: Congressional Republicans, Nobody Here But Us Christians

Among the many shocking things about Eric Cantor’s defeat yesterday, the one that shocked me most is the realization that he is currently the only publicly-identified non-Christian Republican in Congress. Not just the highest-ranking Jewish Republican, or the highest-ranking non-Christian Republican, but the only non-Christian Republican in either chamber, at least according to a Pew analysis of the religious affiliations of Members of Congress conducted after the 2012 elections. It’s always possible, I suppose, that a non-Christian GOPer can be nominated later this year and elected in November, but for now, the estimated 27% of Americans who don’t identify themselves with some form of the Christian faith will likely have no representation among Republicans House and Senate members come next year.

Even if you only look at the disappearance of Republican Jews in Congress, that’s pretty amazing to those of us old enough to remember Jacob Javits and Rudy Boschwitz and Arlen Specter and Warren Rudman and Chic Hecht, all members of the Senate. Lord knows there’s been a significant Jewish presence among right-bent intellectuals over the years, from Milton Freidman to Frank Meyer to Ayn Rand and her “collective” (which included, of course, Alan Greenspan). That’s not to mention Jewish Republican journalists and flacks from the Kristol clan to William Safire and David Brooks and Jonah Goldberg and Jennifer Rubin, or major donors like Sheldon Adelson. And these are just the names that come to mind instantly.

Cantor, of course, was on track to become the first Jewish Speaker of the House, and played a central role in validating conservative criticisms of Democrats as unfriendly to Israel. I can recall a long moment in the rehearsal room for the 2008 Democratic Convention when a congressman scheduled to defend Barack Obama’s record on Middle East issues lobbied convention managers for additional time on grounds that “Eric Cantor will be given all the time he wants at the Republican convention to attack Obama as an enemy of Israel.” Now, presumably, Christian Right GOPers will fully assume control of this line of attack on Democrats in Congress.

But the bigger picture here is that at a time when Republicans are huffing and puffing to depict themselves as a Big Tent Party bound together by ideology rather than race or ethnicity or religion, they likely won’t be able to point to a single Member who isn’t at least formally a Christian. And yes, that’s shocking.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 11, 2014

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Replacing One Disingenuous Politician With Another”: Dave Brat, Eric Cantor’s Career Killer, Nowhere Near Ready For Prime Time

Dave Brat—the college economics professor who pulled off a stunning primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District—was taking a victory lap through the land of talk TV this morning when he ran into a buzz saw in the guise of MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.

Spending the first part of the interview happily discussing his position as a free-market supporter, all was going according to Brat’s script until Todd dared to ask the Republican nominee some actual questions on national policy.

Chuck began by tossing Professor Brat a softball, asking whether the candidate supported a federally mandated minimum wage.

Bear in mind that this is a candidate, an economics professor, who had spent the majority of the interview up the point of Todd’s question, extolling the virtues of a free market. Yet, when asked for his position on a federal minimum wage he struggled to avoid the question, obviously afraid of angering any voters who might be listening or create any news he felt could be harmful to his chances in November.

Smelling blood in Brat’s lack of a solid response, Todd pushed him for an answer, causing Mr. Brat to reply—

“ I don’t have a well-crafted response to that one.”

Call me crazy but I would have thought that a tenured, 18 year economics professor running for Congress on a free market platform might have given some though to the issue of a federally mandated minimum wage at some point before this morning’s interview.

Indeed, one cannot help but wonder whether Professor Brat’s economics students would manage a passing grade in Econ 101 were they to respond to an exam question with “I don’t have a well-crafted response to that one.”—even if that student had not received much sleep the night before the exam (what student ever does?).

Given the reaction by Mr. Brat when facing a question that one would expect a free market expert to have previously pondered, it becomes difficult to avoid the reality that Dave Brat is more of a typical politician than he’s been letting on.

While Brat’s response to an easy question should be distressing to every Virginian who gave him their vote, let alone those who did not, it all got substantially worse when Todd asked Mr. Brat a fairly simple foreign policy question.

“On a foreign policy issue, arming the Syrian rebels. Would you be in favor of that?”

This was, to Mr. Brat’s thinking, going to far. How dare the media quiz a guy favored to enter the House of Representatives in January about his thoughts on a critical foreign policy matter?

For the man who had just toppled the House Majority Leader, a foreign policy question qualified as unfair sandbagging—and Brat wasn’t afraid to say so.

“Hey, Chuck, I thought we were just going to chat today about the celebratory aspects,” Brat said. “I’d love to go through all of this but my mind is just— I didn’t get much sleep last night. I love all the policy questions but I just wanted to talk about the victory ahead and I wanted to thank everybody that worked so hard on my campaign. I’m happy to take policy issues at any time, I just wanted to call out a thanks to everybody today.”

Really? Talk about a disingenuous response. Mr. Brat had began his interview by launching into the six tenets of Republican philosophy that he claims to hold so close to his heart—six policy positions he was clearly not too tired to recount. Brat then treated Todd’s audience to a lecture on the wonders of a free market—a recitation and message he managed to find sufficient energy to deliver, despite his stated lack of sleep that rendered him incapable of telling us his position on minimum wage.

As Erik Wemple notes in the Washington Post:

“Chuck Todd is the ultimate issues guy. How can you go on his show and wave off a question on substance?”

And, so we are all clear, MSNBC spokeswoman Lauren Skowronski confirms that “No promises were made to Brat in advance of his interview on The Daily Rundown this morning.”

Here is a tip for Mr. Brat—if you are too tired to answer a few incredibly easy policy questions, get some sleep before showing up for an interview. I can assure Mr. Brat that journalists like Chuck Todd—as well as a great many others who do what we do—also didn’t get much sleep last night. And yet, we find that we are still able to conjure up our thoughts along with a few simple questions for the candidate this morning.

Is it really asking too much of Dave Brat to be reasonably prepared to answer those questions?

After all, nobody was asking Brat to provide a full-on presentation of his policy positions—only that he tell us where he stands on minimum wage. And if Brat was expecting an MSNBC interview to be a simple opportunity to share the joy he is experiencing in his big win, voters in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District should be very concerned, indeed.

Make no mistake—I am truly pleased to see Mr. Cantor sent packing as I have long viewed the Majority Leader as little more than an opportunist who will say or do most anything to gain the support of his party’s many factions while pocketing as many political chits as he can. Cantor’s fealty to Wall Street has been very well documented, often placing the needs of the moneyed interests who fill his offices and his campaign coffers well above the needs of his constituents—something the voters of his congressional district have apparently figured out.

However, the voters of Virginia’s 7th Congressional District now need to ask themselves a question—do they really want to replace one disingenuous elected official with another disingenuous elected official?

When a candidate like Dave Brat suggests that he cannot give a simple ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ when it comes to his position on minimum wage because he didn’t get enough rest last night, how can he be described as anything but another, run-of-the-mill disingenuous politician dodging what should be a no-brainer question?

And if Mr. Brat hasn’t take a moment to think about our foreign policy, he can only be described as a seriously unprepared candidate engaging in political malpractice.

Either way, as the general election gets underway to fill Eric Cantor’s seat under the glare of a national spotlight, let’s hope that Virginians recognize that replacing one disingenuous politician with another does absolutely nothing to advance either their own interests or the interests of the nation as a whole.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, June 12, 2014

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Defeat Has A Thousand Fathers”: If A Majority Leader Loses And Everyone Hears It, Who Made The Sound?

If a towering incumbent falls in the forest and no national groups were around to push him, who deserves the credit? House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning, historic defeat last night raises the question again of what exactly is the tea party. It’s fair to characterize Randolph-Macon College economics professor Dave Brat as a tea party candidate, but at the same time analysts, activists and lawmakers should remember that included in the universe of people who had no idea this was coming (excepting U.S. News’ Peter Roff) were the national groups that pass for the tea party movement’s establishment.

There’s a tendency to refer to the tea party movement as a homogenous, monolithic enterprise, but the fact remains that there is no “tea party.” Lest I be accused of trying to undercut the conservative insurgent movement, I will note that this is a point I made when “tea party” candidates were getting routed in the Texas and North Carolina senate primaries; movement obituaries should be tempered, I argued then, because the major tea party groups hadn’t shown up for those fights. They showed up in Kentucky in force and lost. They showed up in Mississippi and won. And I would make the same point about South Carolina, where Sen. Lindsey Graham – who is a much more vocal immigration reform supporter than Cantor – cruised to an easy victory last night: Don’t draw too many conclusions from races where one or both sides in the fight declined to engage. “The tea party” isn’t dead because Lindsey Graham is alive any more than it is resurgent because Eric Cantor went down.

Which brings us back to the national groups, which were apparently as oblivious as the rest of us to what was happening in the Richmond area leading up to yesterday’s election.  The Washington Post’s Matea Gold made this point last night, noting that the major tea party groups spent a grand total of nothing on Brat’s behalf:

But it’s worth noting that many of the national tea party groups that have been the most pugilistic about this year’s intra-party fights have not invested much money into helping the candidates on the ground. As we reported earlier this year, organizations such as Tea Party Patriots and the Madison Project are spending huge sums on fundraising, salaries and consultants, while just putting a tiny fraction of the millions of dollars they have raised into political expenditures.

The fact that Brat took off without the help of those organizations now makes it harder for them to claim his victory as their own.

And National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher made the same observation last night, including this damning anecdote about Jenny Beth Martin, the chief of the aforementioned Tea Party Patriots:

In an extensive interview with National Journal earlier Tuesday, Martin did not mention the Cantor race as among the tea party’s top opportunities in 2014. Hours after his defeat, however, Martin issued a triumphant statement congratulating Brat and “the local tea-party activists who helped propel him over the top.”

Certainly the local tea party activists deserve some measure of congratulations. But what remains honestly unclear – whether you’re sympathetic to the GOP establishment or to the tea party insurgency – is what it means nationally. And what does that say about the national party movement and groups like Tea Party Patriots? Tea Party Express strategist Sal Russo told National Journal’s Goldmacher that Cantor’s defeat was a sign of the movement’s strength: “They can strike anywhere. It’s not dependent on a top-down direction.” So where does that leave the top end of that equation? Leading from behind?

To flip the old JFK aphorism around, Eric Cantor’s defeat may have a thousand fathers (and mothers). Political observers would be wise to discern which ones are actually legitimate.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, June 11, 2014

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Tea Party Scam”: Reminder To Republicans, The Tea Party Is Stealing Your Money

After David Brat pulled a stunning primary upset over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in Virginia’s 7th congressional district on Tuesday, Tea Party groups almost immediately began dancing on the deposed incumbent’s grave.

“The grassroots are taking their seat back at the table and returning accountability to Washington. Votes on Capitol Hill will be heard back in the district,” FreedomWorks for America president Matt Kibbe wrote. “If you stop representing your voters, they will hold you accountable at the voting booth. We are proud to stand with Dave Brat in his election and look forward to working with him to reform Washington, D.C.”

Madison Project policy director Daniel Horowitz took to Twitter to gloat:

Daniel Horowitz @RMConservative

Hey if GOP establishment wants they could move to Mexico and run for office

9:22 PM – 10 Jun 2014

And perhaps nobody enjoyed the victory lap more than Tea Party Patriots chairman Jenny Beth Martin, who penned an op-ed in the Daily Caller bragging that Brat “blew up” the narrative that “grassroots conservatism is on the wane, that the tea party movement has run out of steam and is destined for the ash heap of political history.”

“[A]ctivists who belong to a variety of tea party groups coalesced behind a strong candidate and carried him to victory,” Martin wrote. “It is with them that Brat shares the credit.”

Brat may question how much credit he owes to the variety of Tea Party groups credited by Martin, however. While they are more than happy to spike the football after Brat’s win, Tea Party groups spent exactly nothing to help him during the primary campaign.

Zero dollars.

Brat wasn’t ignored for lack of trying.

“I met with them all,” the Republican nominee said of the major Tea Party groups in a February interview with The New York Times. “But it’s tough. Everybody just wants to see the polls, how much money you’ve raised. But they do not know what’s going on on the ground.”

At least Martin was decent enough to learn Brat’s name before attempting to co-opt his victory. In her statement on election night, Martin congratulated “David Brent” on his win, praising him for defeating “the man many consider to be one of the most powerful member [sic] of the House, second only to Mitch McConnell himself.”

Memo to Republicans: If you give political donations to a woman who doesn’t know the difference between Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, or the House and the Senate, you aren’t a fiscal conservative.

Of course, this is nothing new for Tea Party groups, which have never fully put their money where their mouths are. But in recent years, the Tea Party scam has reached Nigerian prince levels. As The Washington Post’s Matea Gold reported in April, “Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates.”

Tea Party Patriots had a particularly dismal record; of the $7.4 million that the group had raised at the time, just $184,505 went to supporting political candidates. By contrast, TPP paid Martin a $15,000 monthly fee for strategic consulting, in addition to $272,000-plus yearly salary as president of the its nonprofit arm.

Brat’s upset victory proved that right-wing activists can still shake up Republican politics to startling degrees. But it also proved that they don’t need the do-nothing Tea Party groups to do so. That’s a lesson that Martin and her fellow Tea Party leaders hope that the grassroots never learns — because after all, traveling the country to rant about wasteful spending isn’t cheap.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, June 11, 2014

June 12, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Eric Cantor Rebranded Himself Out Of A Job”: Like A Golden Retriever Who Tried To Run With A Pack Of Coyotes

It should have been Boehner. It’s not hard to imagine that those were the thoughts going through Eric Cantor’s head Wednesday night as he conceded defeat in his Virginia congressional primary to the Tea Party activist David Brat. After all, it was less than three years ago that Cantor was the foremost champion of Tea Party opposition to the fiscal grand bargain President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were trying to hash out during the debt-ceiling fight. And when Cantor, the House majority leader, successfully sabotaged that deal through a series of Machiavellian maneuvers, he appeared poised to capitalize on the Tea Party’s gratitude and take the speakership from the squishy Boehnerif not that very moment, then some time in the not-too-distant future. Even Obama gave voice to that belief. “You know Cantor’s trying to get your job,” the president taunted Boehner during their 2011 debt-ceiling talks.

And yet, Boehner’s job is safehe easily won his primary last monthand Cantor is now out of his. In a way, Cantor was the victim of his own ambitions. When he was elected to Congress in 2000, he was an Establishment Republican who strongly supported George W. Bush’s agenda. As a member of the House whip team, he helped persuade his fellow Republicans to vote for many of the bills the Tea Party would later decrymost infamously the 2003 Medicare prescription-drug legislation. He was also a staunch and vocal defender of Tom DeLay against corruption charges. But, in 2006, when it looked as if the House GOP leadership was about to lose its majority, Cantor recast himself as a reformerdenouncing the corruption that had consumed his caucus and even swearing off earmarks. Then after Obama’s election in 2008, Cantor, who’d rode his reputation as a reformer to the post of House Minority Whip, began staking out more obstinately conservative positions and became the face of GOP opposition to the new president’s agenda. In 2010, he worked to recruit similarly obstinately conservative Republicans to run for the House, ultimately helping to elect 87 of them. It was those House freshmen whose frustrations and grievances Cantor was channeling during the 2011 debt-ceiling fightand it was those House freshmen, Cantor and his allies assumed, who’d eventually elevate Cantor to speaker. But when Obama was reelected in 2012, Cantor adjusted yet again. The Tea Party had become a liability and Cantor, while not quite going back to his Establishment roots, began striking more moderate notesespecially on immigration, which Brat used to great effect in his primary campaign. In the end, Cantor rebranded himself out of a job.

During his 14 years in Washington, Cantor reinvented himself so many times that I ultimately lost count somewhere around Cantor 6.0. And that was ultimately the reason for Cantor’s downfall. The serial reinventions left Cantor with few allies and myriad enemies. He was the worst thing a politician could be: someone who inspired great passion, but only negative ones. As we’ve seen this year with Boehner and with Senator Mitch McConnell, Establishment Republicans can withstand Tea Party primary challengers. But Cantor couldn’t because, unlike Boehner and McConnellwho despite their opposition to Obama never entirely cozied up to the Tea Partyhe attempted to be something he was not. Cantor was like a golden retriever who tried to run with a pack of coyotes. For a while, he was able to rely on their shared canine ancestry and fit in. But eventually, the coyotes recognized him for the domesticated creature he was. Then they ate him.

 

By: Jason Zengerle, The New Republic, June 11, 2014

June 12, 2014 Posted by | Eric Cantor, Tea Party | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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