A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Meet your newest Tea Party Catholic

If you haven’t already collected your share of fast facts on David Brat, who primaried congressional majority leader Eric Cantor out of office yesterday, here are some worth starting with:

He ran with strong Tea Party support and largely on an anti-immigration message, referring to undocumented migrants as “illegals.”

He’s a professor of economics at Randolph-Macon University in Virginia, where he also teaches ethics; he holds a master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary; he describes himself as a "free-market, Milton Friedman economist" and his scholarship includes work with titles like "God and Advanced Mammon — Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?" and "An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand"; he says he stands for the main tenets of the “Republican creed: free markets, equal protection under the law, fiscal responsibility, constitutional restraint, strong military and belief in God.”

He is a Roman Catholic, though his position on immigration puts him politically far more in line with white evangelicals, among whom support for immigration has dropped to 48 percent; 63 percent of Catholics support immigration reform, as do 68 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

He is either still celebrating or may need to brush up on actual policy, if this exchange from "Morning Joe" is any indicator. A snippet of his answer to a question from Chuck Todd about the minimum wage: 

"Minimum wage, no, I'm a free market guy," Brat responded. "Our labor markets right now are already distorted from too many regulations. I think Cato estimates there's $2 trillion of regulatory problems and then throw Obamacare on top of that, the work hours is 30 hours a week. You can only hire 50 people. There's just distortion after distortion after distortion and we wonder why our labor markets are broken."

Todd then pressed Brat on the question.

"Um, I don't have a well-crafted response on that one," Brat finally conceded. "All I know is if you take the long-run graph over 200 years of the wage rate, it cannot differ from your nation's productivity. Right? So you can't make up wage rates."

As for arming Syrian rebels: “I'd love to go through all of this but my mind is — I love all the policy questions but I just wanted to talk about the victory ahead.”

And as of 10:50 a.m. eastern, his website is down.

The post-mortems on Cantor also make for good reading, starting with E. J. Dionne Jr.'s take, now featured on our homepage.

Were Democratic voters behind the Brat victory? Virginia does not require party registration, and the high turnout in what was supposed to be Cantor cakewalk has some wondering if there was some electoral chaos at work. Update: Maybe not, according to the Washington Post.

Cantor drew more financial support from the finance and securities sector than any other sector, the chief contributors being Blackstone Group, Scoggins Capital Management, and Goldman Sachs – something Brat seized on in addition to Cantor’s alleged laxity on keeping out the illegals.

From the same New York Times story this morning: Cantor’s “demise is mildly Shakespearean,” given how he “helped elevate Tea Party candidates in 2010 across the nation by giving them financial and political support,” and his religion might have played a role as well:

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said another, more local factor has to be acknowledged: Mr. Cantor, who dreamed of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, 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,” Mr. Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

Who will be Cantor’s replacement? The reliable Robert Costa, who actually foresaw the chance of a Brat win, suggests some possibilities and also writes on where the power might shift in the House. Also, immigration reform is really and truly dead. 

Cantor cannot register to run in the general election this fall, in which Brat will face Democrat Jack Trammell – also a professor at Randolph-Macon (!)—whose scholarly work includes a book on the Richmond slave trade

Democrats are, by some accounts, giddy; "moderate" Republicans like Rep. Peter King of New York are not. And if you want to learn more about Tea Party Catholics, read Charles M.A. Clark's review of Samuel Gregg's book by the same name, featured now on our homepage and in our current issue. 

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Gerald Seib in the WSJ:

But Mr. Cantor's defeat at the hands of the tea party isn't a problem only for Republican leaders. It also complicates life for President Barack Obama.  In recent months, there had been a bit more cooperation between the two parties on issues such as the federal budget.  Now, though, House Republicans, frightened by the sight of one of their leaders going down to defeat to tea-party forces to whom cooperation with the Democratic president is anathema, figure to be even less willing to cut deals with the White House.


Still, I'll bet John Boehner lifted a couple when it became clear the guy who would love to play Iago to his Othello will be looking for a job in the securities industry.

What a pity it wasn't Boehner who was toppled. 

These Teapublicans love to eat their young.

They have my blessing when it comes to that.

He seems an odd duck, religiously -- anyone know St. Mary's Church in Richmond, where he attends?

He had this to say in one of his papers:

“I consider myself to be a fairly orthodox Calvinist (in theory, not practice) and I am also a fan of Adam Smith and the market system he so eloquently elaborated over 200 years ago.”

David Gibson:

If Dave Brat considers himself to be a practicing Catholic within the Diocese of Richmond, I suggest that he read the opinion piece drafted by Bishop DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Loverde of Arlington in the Richmond Times dispatch eight months ago.  It is one of the best Catholic responses that I have read - factual and compassionate.



This piece by Sean Trende notes that, on the same night that Brat contributed to the Tea-Party-Isn't-Dead storyline, Lindsay Graham added to the Tea-Party-Is-Dead storyline.  Trende offers a populist/anti-Washington explanation for Brat's victory.


St. Mary's is a West End Richmond (overwhelmingly white, upper middle-class, suburban parish).  I don't know where he lives, but he works closer to St. Anne's in Ashland (home of Randolph Macon College) and to Redeemer in Mechanicsville.  I don't know what that means, and I think it is inappropriate to draw political conclusions based on where one chooses to worship.

Speaking as one of the people who is not a Republican but voted for Brat in the "open" primary, I did so because i don't believe that in terms of their actual votes, Brat and Cantor would have differed all that much, but Brat will not have anything like the power Cantor was able to amass.  In other words, he won't be nearly as effective in pushing the GOP social agenda of turning the Unites States into a third-world kleptocracy in which the poor are not human beings but expendable commodities.  Instead, he will prove to be just one more ineffectual Randian idolator worshipping the false god of the Invisible Hand while ignoring the needs of actual persons.  As such, he may eventually (perhaps by 2016) crash and burn and give some not insane candidate a much better chance to turn him out than Cantor ever could have provided.  My only disappointment about this turn of events is that the Democrats have abandoned Howard Dean's 50-state strategy and didn't even plan to run anyone against Brat until shortly before the GOP primary.  Cantor was so vulnerable that if they had organized correctly, they could have given Brat a run for his money in the general election this fall.

A lot of newspaper articles said this upset will really set  back immigration reform; House Republicans will be to afraid to do anything now.  But it seems like it would be worse for the GOP to be perceived as the party opposed to reform;  would they want this to be the big issue in the upcoming election-  overshadowing Obamacare, Benghazi, etc?



Maybe Mr. Brat is getting his Catholic economic advice from "Fr." Robert Sirico of Alban Institute infamy.

He sure sounds like he does.

Sorry .... make that the Acton Institute.


Are you attempting to imply by your use of "Fr." that Sirico is not in fact a Catholic priest?  I believe that he graduated from Catholic University of America and was ordained a Paulist priest in 1989.  Just thought you'd want to know.

David Hopper's comment above about the open primary is really interesting. I didn't see that in any of the newspaper reports (that it was an open primary; and people could vote across party lines).

Catholic?  Just how "catholic"? His website states that he attends St. Mary's church in Richmond.

According to TIME artiticle

"He currently attends a Catholic church, but he also identifies as a Calvinist, and he lists four churches as affiliations on his resume: St. Michael’s Catholic, Christ Church Episcopal, Third Presbyterian, and Shady Grove Methodist."



Excerpt from Dave Brat's website:

What We Believe

Dave Brat fully supports the Republican Creed, and any leader who unflinchingly upholds that Creed which reads as follows...

We Believe…

  • That the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice,
  • That all individuals are entitled to equal rights, justice, and opportunities and should assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society,
  • That fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government,
  • That the Federal Government must preserve individual liberty by observing Constitutional limitations,
  • That peace is best preserved through a strong national defense,
  • That faith in God, as recognized by our Founding Fathers is essential to the moral fiber of the Nation.

Bob:  I know all about Robert Sirico, going back to 1969.  I consider his use of the appellation "Father" to be a gross violation of common decency.

This was a great victory for the people, winning an election against an establishment candidate without the help of money or special interests. Cantor outspent Brat at a rate of more than 26 to 1! For people who have been bemoaning the oligarchichal state of our democracy and the power of money to decide elections, this should come as fantastic news. The thing is, for Democrats, who consider themselves the party of the people, Brat doesn't at all fit with what they think a people's candidate should look like. It must be a confusing time to be a liberal.

Indeed, though I wouldn't exactly call myseldf a liberal, I do find myself in the odd position of not  agreeing with Brat on most of his positions but still being thrilled that he won.

"He currently attends a Catholic church, but he also identifies as a Calvinist, and he lists four churches as affiliations on his resume: St. Michael’s Catholic, Christ Church Episcopal, Third Presbyterian, and Shady Grove Methodist."

Wow! I only claim three religious affiliations--Unitarian, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic--but have never tried juggling all three at the same period in my life (even though I certainly have my Unitarian and Anglican moments with the RCC).

On the other hand, I can understand why anybody in Congress, left or right, might feel it prudent to have four lines of fire insurance coverage.

What Brat says he believes in is fine by me.  We have yet to see whether he truly believes in equality of rights, justice, and opportunity.  (I'm not hopeful.)  

"...four lines of fire insurance coverage."   How wonderfully clever and telling.  Thanks for that laugh!

Warren I agree with what I believe is the spirit of your remarks.  But, I believe we can agree it ain't just about winning or losing, it about the agenda of the "winner" and the "loser".  I'm guessing your "odd postion" remark aims in that direction.

For myself, what I cannot understand if why we continue to assist in this piecemeal destruction of rational thought by consistently allowing fanatics to identify themselves as conservatives.  It is truly remarkable to extent to which this faux conservatism has embraced such pervasive self-righteousness as daily exemplified by the likes of the Tea Party core.  David Brat has placed himself squarely in that lot though I comfortable believing his extensive education will allow him to couch much gibberish in fine verbal cloth.  An educated opportunist no doubt. 

David Brat was brought up a Presbyterian (so says Wikipedia).  He claims having affiliation with several Christian denominations, namely Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist. He is married to a Catholic and attends a parish in Richmond.

It would not surprise me to discover that he has never attended RCIA instruction and converted to the Catholic faith and that he considers attendance at Mass to be enough to claim that he is Catholic on his website.


How do we know about David Bart's religious affiliations? They are listed in his curriculum vita on the Randolph-Macon College website.

Here goes:



Virginia Association of Economists

American Economic Association

Southern Economic Association

SouthEast Decision Sciences Institute

Twin Hickory Homeowners Association

Board Hartley Plantation Homeowners Association

Board Randolph-Macon College

Board of Associates Henrico County Republican Committee

St. Michael’s Catholic Church

Christ Church Episcopal

Third Presbyterian Church

Shady Grove Methodist Church

United States Tennis Association

Hermitage C.C. 8.5 Men’s Tennis League Travel Team




Tea Party Catholic. What a joke, except I am not laughing.

How can a Brat, who attended Hope College (Dutch Reformed Church) and Princeton Theological Seminry (Presbyterian), be so brashly identified as a Catholic.


I know a very devout Catholic woman who has a degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. Their website says:

“Princeton Theological Seminary is today a denominational school with an ecumenical, interdenominational, and worldwide constituency. This is reflected in the faculty, in the curriculum of studies, and in the student body.”

The Tea Party used to be a catch-all for a number of disgruntled people who felt served by neither liberals nor conservatives. They had a variety of concerns and ranged from communitarians to Ayn Randians to those primarily concerned with the maintenance of their free access to any and all types of firearms. There was a Tea Party rally in our village a few years ago. It was actually kind of fun. Everybody got to get up and vent (often somewhat incoherently), and there were hot dogs, and a collection taken up for the local school. It was therapeutic.

I think the Tea Party is still an elusive thing to define. They don't really have any ideology that I can see, just a lot of mistrust. For instance, "insiders" in Congress are not to be trusted. I think that's why long-time conservatives like Speaker Boehner have a hard time controlling them. The federal government can't be trusted (it spies on people, squanders money, is run by bloated bureaucracies, is in the pocket of lobbyists). Liberals can't be trusted because they want to spend other people's money on social problems that have no viable solutions. Their tactics are to identify "insiders" and dig in the opposition. 

In some ways, I admire them for their guts. But their movement seems kind of poorly thought out.

Brat's "Catholic Calvinism" is picked up by Julie Ingersoll, who links it to "theocratic libertarianism."

Brat notes a division between the responsibilities of the state and the church. The state, in this model, is severely restrained in its authority over economic activity. The best check on the depravity of individuals who make up the civil government is the decentralization of authority into the distinct spheres; the best check on the depravity of human beings in the economy is the decentralization of the market created by competition.

Historian Michael McVicar has this called this "theocratic libertarianism": it creates an economic zone free of government regulation, but it does not create a zone free of the regulations of religion.

This is the model in which care for the poor is the responsibility of the family and the church and any government safety net is labelled “socialism.”  It is the model in which education is the sole responsibility of families, leading to the goal of eliminating public education and any state regulation of private education and home schooling. At the very heart of this version of Calvinism is the goal of bringing all areas of life “under the Lordship of Christ.”

Helen - re all those church "affiliations" - maybe that means he joined the parish?  Lust looking at the names of all those churches, he does seem kind of polydenominational :-)  

Sorry, I meant to type, "Just looking", not "Lust looking". :-)


Freudian slip?

Call me a skeptic but I do not think that he is a convert to Catholicism.

Helen - right, based on what's been presented here, I don't think so, either.  I assume this is a case of a non-Catholic joining a Catholic parish, and now claiming on his website that he's 'affiliated' with that parish.

I think that the presumption is that because someone is Catholic, their politics will be informed by the social teaching of the church and/or the seamless garment approach. There is no evidence of that. It is more likely that a politician's political ideology will be what drives them in the public domain and they will just fit their faith to their politics and not vice versa.

I am not saying that is how it should be, I am saying that is how it is. If we want it to be otherwise, we need to start thinking about how to provide education. But the problem is the core Catholic community is as divided as anyone else.

George - re: the divided community: Catholic social teachings are foundational principles that can give rise to more than one possible policy.  That is not to say that any and every policy is justifiable under Catholic social teaching.  And I'm sure you're right that most politicians start with a laundry list of ideologically determined policy positions, and then work backward to try to align them with Catholic social teaching (if they even bother with that exercise at all).  

The legalization of same sex marriage surely is one current example.  Catholic moral and social teaching couldn't be more clear that same sex marriage is morally impermissible; but does it therefore follow that a large and religiously and morally diverse country like the US should therefore ban same sex marriage as an across-the-board policy?  Many liberal Catholic politicians have supported the legalization of same sex marriage.  It's not possible to look into their hearts to determine what the basis for that support is, but in charity I think we should assume that in at least some cases, those politicians support it because they find a certain consonance between their Catholic faith (or faith heritage) and support for same sex couples, and for granting certain rights to gay individuals.  Many conservative Catholic politicians oppose same sex marriage, and I would say the same approach should apply: as we cannot look into their hearts, so in charity we should assume that their opposition is rooted in sincere religious and moral conviction, and that they believe a ban on same sex marriage is best for society and for same sex couples.

The same is true, I would argue, regarding policies that address problems of poverty.  Catholic social teaching is crystal-clear that the poor must be helped.  Liberal Catholic politicians wish to do this via government transfers (i.e. government-mandated redistribution).  Conservative Catholic politicians wish to do this by fostering a vibrant economy, personal opportunity and personal responsibility.  Each side attributes the worst motives to the other: if we accepted the political rhetoric at face value, we'd conclude that liberals oppose a prosperous economy, while conservatives want to shut down government entitlements completely.  Neither is true; both sides are sincere; and both sides believe that their preferred policies align with Catholic social teaching.  

Here's a piece of Brat's ramblings from a little diddy titled "“God and the Advanced Mammon — Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?”

"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."

Anybody care to name another fellow who pulled off a similar (but on a grander scale) political upset in the first half of the 20th century? He too claimed he was following God's word.  The pervasive irony in these pseudo-intellectuals is the fodder keeping Stewart gainfully employed.

Less time convincing the adoring crowd one identifies oneself with Christ and a bit more with the thief on the cross just might help.

Well....Brat's point has some logic to it and Nietzsche's charicature of Christianity was devestating in its penetrating insight. This simply cannot be denied. And Brat is appealing to the Romantic ideas of the founding fathers formed as they were from the Enlghtenment.

However, human beings are not angels and government is necessary for good order. The framers of the US constitution had some very good ideas of checks and balances and devised a brilliant system. But I don't think the framers were as libertarian as the tea party folks suggest.

Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the weak modern Christian democratic man was spot on.

Ahem. Am I to understand that "spot on" is currently recognized as a technical term of accuracy in theo-economic discourse as well as a marker that the user watches lots of British TV shows and BBC? As in, "My criticism of the minimum wage has not been crafted into a bumper sticker, but when it is, let me assure you it will be spot on"?

Excuse me, I have to use the loo.

Jim Pauwels' comment contains several points I find so far out of line I have to challenge them.


The notion that some people oppose same sex marriage because they believe a ban on same sex marriage is best for same sex couples seems patronizing in the extreme.

The statement on how liberals and conservatives want to address the problems of poverty is so far out of reality as to be insulting. That liberal Catholic politicians favor government mandated redistribution as the answer to poverty is plain and simply wrong. Not only is it wrong to even suggest all liberal Catholic politicians hold the same views, it is even wrong to suggest liberals of any stripe see redistribution as the answer to poverty.

Please do not mistake a response to a critical situation with a long term solution. The long term solution that is the liberals proven line is, jobs. Reduce unemployment below 5% *REAL* and you solve a whole lot of problems.

Saying conservative Catholic politicians wish to do this by fostering a vibrant economy, personal opportunity and personal responsibility is equally deceptive. It is far more likey that many don't consider it their problem at all. For that matter, personal responsibility does not factor into Mathew 25 at all. That's a judgemental toward the poor, which can be argued in policy, but has zero to do with Christ's command to feed the poor etc.

The poor are hungry today, so the problem needs to be addressed, starting yesterday.

Tom Blackburn Are there no subscribers who are British? Or, could one actually be Canadian, eh?

Robert Klahn - I was describing my understanding of liberal and conservative positions on a couple of issues.  If you find a conservative stance on same-sex marriage to be offensive, then (if my description of their stance is accurate), your argument is with them.  Same with my description of liberal approaches to the problem of poverty.  

It's also possible that you disagree with my descriptions, e.g. you believe that liberals don't favor government transfer policies to attack problems of poverty.  If that's the case, then there may  be something for us to discuss.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment