“David vs. Rome”: A Few Minutes With Eric Cantor’s Primary Foe

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 14 2014 3:55 PM

“David vs. Rome”: A Few Minutes With Eric Cantor’s Primary Foe

461401433-house-of-representatives-majority-leader-eric-cantor
Emperor Eric.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Robert Costa and Jenna Portnoy are out with an interesting, somewhat perplexing (not their fault!) story on how Rep. Eric Cantor came to face a conservative primary challenger.* Cantor is ideally positioned to become the next (and first Jewish) speaker of the House, and in the first great epic battle of the Tea Party's Washington experiment, he generally sided with his caucus against a "grand bargain" that would have raised taxes. Yet last weekend, Cantor failed to get his preferred candidate over the top in a district GOP leadership race, and reporters have discovered his latest challenger, David Brat. The scene:

Cantor tried to reason with conservatives who have embraced Brat.
“It’s easy to say that you’re going to stand up to Obama and the left-wing attack machine, but it is an entirely different thing to actually do it,” a combative Cantor said, “to actually do it, to stand up and be counted.”
The tea partyers weren’t buying it. They booed Cantor, cheered for Brat and even ousted Cantor’s right-hand man as 7th District Republican Committee chairman in favor of one of their own.
Advertisement

Brat, a professor at Randolph-Macon College in the district, said something in the story that confused me. His race—the race between a congressman and an academic who works with a bank-funded college program to spread the ideas of Ayn Rand—was like "David vs. Rome." What did that mean? I had a guess, but I emailed Bart to check.

"It’s 'David and Goliath,' like the Bible, like the Malcolm Gladwell book," he said. "I was just expanding it – it’s one guy against the entire establishment. Cantor calls me a liberal on Fox News, a hand-chosen protégé of Tim Kaine, because I’m on this revenue estimate board that meets once a year. Now the national media’s shining a light on this thing. They’re finding out that I'm not a liberal!"

No, Brat describes his policies as in line with the Virginia Republican creed. "I’m running 100% on the Republican creed," he said, reciting the preamble about "free markets" from memory. "It’s very good, it's comprehensive, but none of the Republicans are running it. Everybody knows the Republicans are way off course."

In the Post piece, Brat is described as critical of Cantor for raising the debt limit. Would he have refused to do so, had he been in Congress a few month ago?

"There was a spending bill that preceded the debt ceiling increase," said Bart. "My commitment is not to increase spending; to have a spending bill where you don’t increase it. Cantor’s voted for 10 of the last 15 debt ceiling increases. I just don’t buy the idea that you are truly put in the position of backing the debt ceilng increase the last minute, that you had no choice."

And what did he make of Cantor's campaign, starting really after the 2012 election, to address nontraditionally Republican voting groups about how conservatives could reform the government?

"If you look at the Tenth Amendment, the federal government has enumerated powers and the rest fall to the states. I don’t like Eric’s logic that the federal government should be used to solve all of society’s problems."

*Correction, May 14, 2014: This post originally misspelled Jenna Portnoy's last name.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.