'Tea Party Has Taken Control of the Republican Party'

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Eric Cantor, shown in Washington in 2013, stunned observers by losing his seat to a Tea Party challenger. Credit: AFP

U.S. politicians and political commentators were reeling Wednesday after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the most senior Jewish official in government, stunned observers by losing his seat to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat, an economics professor at a military academy, in Tuesday's Republican primary to represent Virginia's 7th Congressional District.

"The dream of a Jewish Republican speaker of the House is no more," wrote Politico's Alexander Burns. "[F]or Jewish Republicans, Cantor is a singular figure, the only Jewish member of the House majority and the lone Jewish leader in a party that has strenuously courted the community in recent presidential elections, to little avail."

Matt Brooks, the president of the Republican Jewish Coalition, went so far as to call Cantor's defeat "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.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Cantor 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,” Wasserman told The New York Times. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

But that doesn't mean there's no room for humor. "'Brat Upsets Cantor' is the name of my bar mitzvah memoir," tweeted Dave Gilson, a senior editor at Mother Jones.

Cantor's ouster may leave congressional Republicans without a non-Christian member, the Huffington Post reported.

In January of last year, the House had 161 Protestant members, 61 Catholic, seven Mormons and three Orthodox Christians, according to Pew Research Center data cited by the Huffington Post. Cantor was the GOP's only Jew in either the House or the Senate.

Jewish Democrats are losing ground too. In 2012 Protestants and Jews experienced the biggest declines in numerical terms, according to Pew data. At the time, Jews held 33 seats (6 percent), six fewer than in the previous Congress, where Jews held 39 seats (7 percent).

Of course, the shock outcome is about more than Jews in politics. The election is "a bad omen for moderates," The New York Times reported.

“The results tonight will move the party further to the right, which will marginalize us further as a national party,” said Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from New York.

A similar sentiment was expressed on the other side of the aisle.

"Tonight's result in Virginia settles the debate once and for all - the Tea Party has taken control of the Republican Party. Period," said Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who heads the Democratic National Committee. "When Eric Cantor, who time and again has blocked common sense legislation to grow the middle class, can't earn the Republican nomination, it's clear the GOP has redefined 'far right.'"

The majority leader’s loss was the biggest electoral shock to the House since 1994, the L.A. Times wrote. At that time, Speaker Thomas Foley, a Washington Democrat, was "swept out of office in the GOP tidal wave that ushered in Republican control."

"It was a stunning, unimaginable, impossible, defeat," the paper quoted Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan analysis of elections, as saying. "This is the political version of the San Francisco earthquake. It came out of nowhere."

One measure of what The New York Times called "the extraordinary defeat" could be seen in a spending comparison. Since the beginning of last year, the paper reported, Cantor’s campaign spent about $168,637 just at steakhouses, not much less than the $200,000 Brat spent on his entire campaign.

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