Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., weighed in on the discussion sparked by comments by a Texas minister about the role of religious faith in picking a presidential candidate.
Cantor, the highest-ranking Republican in Congress who is Jewish, said on Tuesday that a candidate’s faith should not determine fitness for office.
“I don’t even know what to say to that, other than if people view that as their driving factor, then this country is one that affords all of us to practice our faith,” said Cantor when asked to respond to a weekend controversy over comments by Baptist minister Robert Jeffress at the conservative Values Voter Summit. He equated Mormonism to a cult and said conservatives should not support former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as a result. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is also a Mormon. Jeffress supports Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Jeffress’s assertion reflects the view of some evangelical Christians who maintain that Mormons are not Christians and that only Christians should be president. The role of evangelicals in deciding GOP presidential primaries is notable because of the sizable voting bloc they represent in critical early states such as Iowa and South Carolina.
“Obviously, I don’t think that one’s religion is demonstrative of anything other than, that is their faith, and you look to see their record and how they’re affected by their moral values and if those moral values come from their faith,” Cantor said.
The Republican presidential lineup will debate on Tuesday night at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The debate is scheduled to focus on the economy, so it is unclear if the candidates will be pressed to discuss religion and the role it plays in determining their party’s nominee.