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Cantor, Brat, and the Delightful Weirdness of American Politics

Over the days and weeks to come, we'll take a close look at what Eric Cantor's unbelievable loss means for American politics. But for now, let's take a moment to appreciate the utter strangeness of his downfall — and his opponent.

By Nathan Pippenger

Tagged Cantor

Politics never stays dull for long. In an incredible upset, Eric Cantor—the House Majority Leader and scowly bete noire of liberalslost his Republican primary election to David Brat, a little-known economics professor at a small Virginia college. And it wasn’t close: Cantor lost by 11 points, despite being told by internal pollsters that he was up by 34. And despite being the second-highest ranking Republican in the country. In the wake of this almost unbelievable loss, Cantor is quitting his House leadership position, and reporters everywhere are scrambling to answer a newly relevant question: Who on Earth is David Brat?

Already, the early digging is turning up gems. There are, of course, some relatively unsurprising biographical details: as an economics professor, Brat accepted right-wing philanthropic dollars to teach a free-market, Ayn-Rand promoting curriculum (though he stops short of calling himself a Randian). This is par for the course for a Tea Partier, but Brat’s musings on Hitler, capitalism, and Christianity are a little more exotic. As Reid Epstein notes, in 2011 Brat wrote the following in a theological journal:

Capitalism is here to stay, and we need a church model that corresponds to that reality. Read Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the weak modern Christian democratic man was spot on. Jesus was a great man. Jesus said he was the Son of God. Jesus made things happen. Jesus had faith. Jesus actually made people better. Then came the Christians. What happened? What went wrong? We appear to be a bit passive. Hitler came along, and he did not meet with unified resistance. I have the sinking feeling that it could all happen again, quite easily. The church should rise up higher than Nietzsche could see and prove him wrong. We should love our neighbor so much that we actually believe in right and wrong, and do something about it. If we all did the right thing and had the guts to spread the word, we would not need the government to backstop every action we take.

This is a heady blend! Capitalism, Nietzsche, Jesus Christ, and Hitler, all mixed together in what has to be one of the strangest paragraphs ever written by a major-party candidate for the U.S. Congress. In one sentence, there’s Brat, seemingly endorsing Nietzsche and the idea that Christianity has made people weak. Then, in the very next sentence, Brat offers “great man” praise for Jesus—who was, of course, unrelenting in his contempt for the meek and the peacemakers, and who famously embraced worldly power. Skip forward about 19 centuries for the inevitable Nazi reference (“Then came the Christians…Hitler came along”), and you end with two strange assertions: First, that the next Hitler could come along any minute now; and second, that an aggressive, take-no-prisoners Christianity would make government unnecessary (“If we all did the right thing and had the guts to spread the word, we would not need the government to backstop every action we take.”) (So much for rendering unto Caesar.) At least, that’s one interpretation of this delightfully bizarre stream of consciousness from the guy who just unseated one of the most powerful Republicans in the country. I’m sure we’ll hear much more from him in the weeks to come—but for now, it seems appropriate to take a minute to appreciate the unrelenting weirdness of American politics.

Read more about Cantor

Nathan Pippenger is a contributing editor at Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanPip.

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