Commentary Magazine


Topic: Eric Cantor

Cantor Checks Out Early; Will It Matter?

When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election earlier this year in a major upset, it seemed clear right away that he could not keep his leadership position until the end of his term. Because he was on his way out, he would lose too much of his effectiveness at a crucial time for the GOP, which only held the House. Furthermore, Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans and wanton destruction of Senate traditions and practices has made the GOP virtually invisible in the Senate. With a White House that doesn’t appear to recognize any limits on its power, the right would need their House leadership in midseason form. Having Cantor remain leader would have been a strategic limitation.

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When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary election earlier this year in a major upset, it seemed clear right away that he could not keep his leadership position until the end of his term. Because he was on his way out, he would lose too much of his effectiveness at a crucial time for the GOP, which only held the House. Furthermore, Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans and wanton destruction of Senate traditions and practices has made the GOP virtually invisible in the Senate. With a White House that doesn’t appear to recognize any limits on its power, the right would need their House leadership in midseason form. Having Cantor remain leader would have been a strategic limitation.

It was a major coup for Cantor’s relatively unknown GOP challenger, Dave Brat. He had been abandoned even by Tea Party groups, outspent by a wide margin, and didn’t have much name recognition. So he seemed content to wait for the general election, in which he was favored, and to take his spot in the House and begin to work his way up the ladder. But today, plans were changed. Cantor announced that, whereas right after the election pains were taken to stress that the outgoing leader was leaving his leadership post but not his seat, he is now apparently doing the latter as well. As the New York Times reports:

Representative Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican whose last day as House majority leader was Thursday, said on Friday that he would resign his seat effective Aug. 18 in hopes that his successor will be able to participate in the lame-duck session after the November elections.
Mr. Cantor, 51, made the announcement in an op-ed article published on The Richmond Times-Dispatch website. …

Mr. Cantor, who has served in Congress for 14 years, said that he would ask Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, to call a special election for his seat on Nov. 4 — the same day as the general election — a move that would allow the winner to take Mr. Cantor’s seat immediately rather than wait for the next Congress to be seated in January. The winner would also enjoy seniority over the other Representatives first elected that day.
Mr. McAuliffe told the newspaper that he was “heartsick” about Mr. Cantor’s loss because the state was losing a senior voice in Congress, but there was no indication whether he would honor the request for a special election.
Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District is conservative, which would favor Mr. Brat’s chances in November, when he will face the Democratic nominee, Jack Trammell, and James Carr, a Libertarian. Both Mr. Brat and Mr. Trammell are professors at Randolph-Macon College.

The advantages are clear but limited. The Times originally wrote that the winner of the election, if held in this manner, would gain Cantor’s seniority. That’s not the case, and the article has since been corrected. If he wins, Brat would have seniority over the others elected that day, as he would take office before them. Had he been able to take over Cantor’s seniority, Cantor’s exit strategy would be clear. As it stands now, the benefits are a bit hazy, other than giving his Virginia district a slight advantage over other seats won by new members that day.

Larry Sabato says it’s self-interest and generosity, for Dave Brat will reap the benefits. Robert Tracinski says it’s self-interest (a head start on his post-congressional career) with a touch of boredom (he’s given up on the lame-duck session producing anything worth staying in the House over). I imagine we’ll find out more after he actually steps down later this month.

Conservatives, in this case, might as well pay more attention to the effect and less to the intentions at play. The lame-duck session may very well turn out to be more important than it might seem at the moment, depending on the results on Election Day. If the midterm elections produce a GOP wave, it’s possible the Senate will change hands, or else come very close. If Republicans make significant gains, the lame-duck session will be the Reid-led Democrats’ last chance during the Obama administration to make good use of their Senate majority.

Of course, their initiatives would not get very far in the House, so there are even limits here. But Reid’s actions in the Senate are not meant to enact legislation and fix problems as much as they are to manipulate a gullible media into portraying Republicans in the most negative light possible. As such, the Democratic Senate’s actions mostly consist of publicity stunts. The exception is for judicial and other nominees, which Reid can get confirmed by using the nuclear option, which he cannot do if he’s in the minority. If the midterms go well for the GOP, expect Reid to go on a two-month binge, in which case yes, the lame-duck session will matter some.

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McCarthy Learning from Cantor’s Mistakes?

After Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss to Dave Brat, it appeared as though we wouldn’t really understand what happened for some time. But it turned out that one of the earliest pieces on the upset was so on-target as to eventually become the conventional wisdom. Robert Tracinski’s reaction piece at the Federalist had an advantage over many others seeking to weigh in: Tracinski lives in Cantor’s district, and so had a front-row seat.

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After Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss to Dave Brat, it appeared as though we wouldn’t really understand what happened for some time. But it turned out that one of the earliest pieces on the upset was so on-target as to eventually become the conventional wisdom. Robert Tracinski’s reaction piece at the Federalist had an advantage over many others seeking to weigh in: Tracinski lives in Cantor’s district, and so had a front-row seat.

As Tracinski explained at the time:

For almost as long as I’ve lived here, which is coming up on 20 years now, the purpose of the seventh district has been to re-elect Eric Cantor every two years. It’s a strongly Republican district that spans across a very conservative stretch of rural Central Virginia, from the Richmond suburbs to Culpeper. So what were we going to do, vote for a Democrat? No, we were going to vote for Cantor.

And Cantor knew it. Because he didn’t have to worry too much about getting re-elected every two years, his political ambition was channeled into rising through the hierarchy of the House leadership. Rise he did, all the way up to the #2 spot, and he was waiting in the wings to become Speaker of the House.

The result was that Cantor’s real constituency wasn’t the folks back home.

Cantor was replaced in that leadership slot by California Republican Kevin McCarthy, who seemed to follow the old adage about learning from the mistakes of others–though he doesn’t need much of a reminder. The Wall Street Journal reports that McCarthy is intent on staying close to his constituents. A congressman should represent his district in Washington, not represent Washington to his district. If that’s one lesson to come out of the grassroots’ insurgent campaigns against establishment candidates, the Tea Party and other conservative groups will have brought back a measure of accountability sorely needed in the nation’s capital.

Yet to be fair to McCarthy, he was aware of this before Cantor’s defeat. As the Journal notes, McCarthy was instrumental in helping the GOP gain its House majority by strategically targeting Democrats he considered vulnerable–not because they were poor candidates or beset by scandals, but because they had been in office long enough to drift from their home district:

Anyone in search of Mr. McCarthy on weekends needs to look no further than Luigi’s, one of this city’s oldest family-run businesses. As the man who orchestrated a 2010 Republican takeover of Congress by targeting Democrats who, in his estimation, were out of touch with their districts, Mr. McCarthy is keenly aware that forsaking home for power in Washington can spell defeat.

“In your fifth term, I felt you were most vulnerable,” Mr. McCarthy said, after ordering a round of Butterfinger pies for the table. “So I would target those to go after.”

McCarthy’s district is, however, in many ways a cross-section of the competing interest groups that follow the congressman to Washington and back. The Journal explains that McCarthy is under pressure from the United Farm Workers, which is based in his district, over immigration.

McCarthy also hears from the Bakersfield Tea Party, which aims to push McCarthy to the right by showing him “some tough love,” in the words of one of its leaders. And he must add “oil and agricultural industries” to the mix as well. But even if McCarthy has been no stranger around his district, he still seems to be consciously employing the lessons of Cantor’s defeat:

Mr. McCarthy is doing what he can to ensure he doesn’t suffer the fate of the man he replaces as majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, whose Virginia primary loss last month came at the hands of a virtually unknown tea-party candidate who successfully attacked Mr. Cantor as having become too much part of the Washington establishment.

Despite facing only a write-in opponent this fall, Mr. McCarthy already has aired a campaign commercial here. “Being elected majority leader was an honor,” Mr. McCarthy said in the spot. “But the highest honor is serving our community and you.”

During a recent visit home, Mr. McCarthy served his constituents—literally.

Donning a Sequoia Sandwich Company T-shirt, Mr. McCarthy hustled through lunchtime crowds, sweating and bellowing out order numbers. The sandwich shop marked the day by offering “The McCarthy” special: cracked-pepper turkey on a ciabatta roll with cream cheese.

Some of this is cosmetic, and some of it is nearly universal to members of the House who must run for reelection every two years and, even in a safe district, at least make a show of it. But that show is reassuring: as American politics has become increasingly nationalized, the public stands to lose a great deal at the steady erosion of local governance. The Tea Party often talks about getting back to first principles, and this is a good way to do so.

The Tea Party has put up some poor candidates, but on balance it has been a net positive for the conservative movement. Cantor’s loss may have been surprising, and it also may not really change anything. But if it serves to remind members of Congress who their constituents are, it’ll have another, even if modest, benefit.

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Reid Sets a Trap for GOP on Earmarks

Harry Reid is making trouble again. With Republicans still squabbling over the establishment-Tea Party rift, the Senate’s top Democrat sat down with reporters from the Huffington Post to offer some comments perfectly designed to make Republicans even angrier at each other.

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Harry Reid is making trouble again. With Republicans still squabbling over the establishment-Tea Party rift, the Senate’s top Democrat sat down with reporters from the Huffington Post to offer some comments perfectly designed to make Republicans even angrier at each other.

According to HuffPo:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects congressional earmarks will be revived and insisted senior Republican Party members support the return of congressionally directed spending.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Reid argued that the prohibition on earmarks was a mistake that tipped the balance of power away from the legislative branch and toward the president. He said he wants the ability to approve specific spending projects to be put back under control of Congress.

Reid said top House Republicans have told him they support earmarks and would like to see the practice return. He said those he’s spoken to include “a very senior member of the House Republican caucus.” Reid wouldn’t name names, but said that the lawmaker is “still there” — meaning it’s likely not Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Reid’s timing is almost certainly no coincidence. As political targets go, earmarks are the broad side of a barn. Because they explicitly direct taxpayer cash, it’s easy to find ridiculous pork-barrel projects and obvious wastes of money. During the Bush presidency, Majority Leader Tom DeLay used earmarks as a disciplinary tool. The more transparency that developed–that is, the more easily specific earmarks could be traced not only to their destination but back to their congressional source–the more easily they could be used much as campaign-finance regulation is used: as incumbent-protection plans.

Hence they came to be hated by conservatives even before the rise of the Tea Party. When Republicans gained and then lost control of Congress, much of it was blamed by the grassroots on GOPers falling prey to the lure of power and appropriations and forgetting its limited-government roots. Conservatives said Republicans deserved to lose because they began spending money just like Democrats.

The Tea Party’s arrival on the scene was part of this trend, and it’s easy to see why earmarks are a stand-in for precisely what drives budget hawks crazy about Washington. But they also posed a specific threat to the Tea Party: as districts became less competitive, the primary contests were where the real action was. And, in the House at least, winning a primary got you most of the way to punching your ticket to Congress. (The Senate has been a tougher party to crash.)

So Reid’s timing for dropping this hint about the return of earmarks was perfect, at least from his standpoint. Just a few years ago, an incumbent running against a self-described Tea Partier was an underdog. But this year, incumbents and establishment candidates have been able to push back. In part this has been because the Tea Party’s early victories have enabled it to shape the party’s congressional agenda, so primaries these days are often conservatives running against conservatives–Dave Brat against Eric Cantor is a much different matchup than Pat Toomey against Arlen Specter.

But the recent runoff victory by incumbent Thad Cochran over Chris McDaniel is highly relevant to the debate over earmarks. Cochran was expected to lose the runoff. Primary turnout is already lower than general-election turnout, and a runoff lower still. Usually.

Cochran turned the tables by crossing the aisle and making a successful pitch to Mississippi’s black voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic. He did so by reminding black voters that he brings home the bacon for them, despite the fact that they don’t vote for him in general elections. Pro-Cochran groups hired black leaders to make the same plea. It worked, and Cochran won.

The lesson here is that Cochran’s record was not enough to placate the grassroots, but that he could win by emphasizing his spending on federal programs that help his state. If Republican leaders pine for the days of earmarks, it’s easy to see why. Not only could they help defeat conservative insurgents, but the House caucus has become far more difficult for the leadership to control–witness House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning loss to Brat, who had been abandoned even by Tea Party groups.

Reid is also handing his Republican counterparts a live grenade in offering a plausible-sounding justification for earmarks: they could help devolve spending power back to the Congress from the White House. It is, of course, a trap. Earmarks may not have been the budget poison they were sometimes made out to be, and they certainly weren’t all bridges to nowhere. But they will not stop this president from taking executive action, and they will not bring Democrats on board for the House GOP’s reform agenda.

Reid is trying to sucker the GOP leadership into a prolonged fight with its base that the establishment will eventually lose. At times earmarks got more attention than they warranted. But the GOP leadership doesn’t stand to gain from being their champion.

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Cantor’s Loss and the Search for a Unified Field Theory

There’s no question that the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a significant, even unprecedented, political event. As the Washington Post put it, “Historians said that no House leader of Cantor’s rank had ever been defeated in a primary.”

It’s not surprising, then, that there’s been an avalanche of commentary attempting to explain why Mr. Cantor was defeated. Some have argued it was because of his stand on immigration. Others said the majority leader was too closely identified with Wall Street and the GOP “establishment.” Still others argued that Cantor had lost touch with his constituents. Ron Fournier suggests that Cantor’s defeat may signal a “populist revolution.” Mr. Cantor’s pollster, John McLaughlin, says the race was decided by Democratic voters.

Each of these things may well have contributed to the outcome of the race. Or perhaps only some of them. Here’s the thing, though: We’ll never really know, given the limited post-election data we have to examine; and we certainly won’t know how much weight to give (if any at all) to Cantor’s stance on immigration v. the perception that he’s too closely tied with business interests v. the sense among some of his constituents that he had grown aloof.

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There’s no question that the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a significant, even unprecedented, political event. As the Washington Post put it, “Historians said that no House leader of Cantor’s rank had ever been defeated in a primary.”

It’s not surprising, then, that there’s been an avalanche of commentary attempting to explain why Mr. Cantor was defeated. Some have argued it was because of his stand on immigration. Others said the majority leader was too closely identified with Wall Street and the GOP “establishment.” Still others argued that Cantor had lost touch with his constituents. Ron Fournier suggests that Cantor’s defeat may signal a “populist revolution.” Mr. Cantor’s pollster, John McLaughlin, says the race was decided by Democratic voters.

Each of these things may well have contributed to the outcome of the race. Or perhaps only some of them. Here’s the thing, though: We’ll never really know, given the limited post-election data we have to examine; and we certainly won’t know how much weight to give (if any at all) to Cantor’s stance on immigration v. the perception that he’s too closely tied with business interests v. the sense among some of his constituents that he had grown aloof.

This will not, of course, keep political commentators from instantly and authoritatively interpreting the outcome of the race, often in ways that advance their own pre-existing views. (If you’re a critic of “comprehensive immigration reform,” for example, you’re probably more likely to interpret Cantor’s loss as a result of him holding views at odds with your own.) What I’ve learned over the years is that what will soon emerge is a perceived wisdom, which may be largely baseless but will nevertheless be important. Important because lessons that are incomplete or wrong, when internalized, still influence how people act.

So let’s assume for the sake of the argument that Cantor’s stance on immigration was a contributing but not an overriding factor in his loss. Yet if the post-election “narrative” is that his approach on illegal immigration cost Cantor his seat–if that is seen as the dominant issue–that is what other Republicans will take away from the race. And they will adjust to what they think reality is, whether or not it happens to be true.

There’s a natural human tendency to interpret things in life, including in political life, in somewhat superficial ways. Nuances and subtleties give way to simplistic explanations. That happens a lot in politics; and I imagine it’ll be amplified in this instance. Because the bigger the event, the greater the temptation to produce a Unified Field Theory. Such theories can often be interesting and creative; but usually they are mistaken. And that actually matters.

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GOP Leaders’ Wise Rebuke of Steve King

The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin is right to praise Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for their criticisms of Republican House member Steve King.

Representative King, speaking about legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children, said this:

They will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law, “We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.” Well my answer to that is – and by the way, their parents brought them in, it wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.

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The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin is right to praise Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for their criticisms of Republican House member Steve King.

Representative King, speaking about legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children, said this:

They will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law, “We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.” Well my answer to that is – and by the way, their parents brought them in, it wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.

In a statement, Boehner said, “There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that.” Mr. Boehner, later in the week, amplified his criticisms by saying this: “Earlier this week, Representative Steve King made comments that were, I think, deeply offensive and wrong. What he said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican Party.” And Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, said of King’s remarks: “I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable.” (Cantor is working on a bill that would legalize young undocumented immigrants.)

Representative King’s interview with NewsMax.com is worth watching. His comments actually started out with the goal of showing sympathy for young kids who were brought here by parents who are illegal. But King couldn’t contain himself; he felt compelled to portray a reasonable and humane idea as something that would “destroy the rule of law” and rip apart American society. In order to do that, he had to distort the fact. The Senate proposal says that to qualify for provisional status those applying would need to maintain clean criminal records, including no felony convictions, no more than three misdemeanor convictions or a conviction of a serious crime in another country, and no unlawful voting.  

Beyond that, one cannot help but sense that underneath it all, what animates Mr. King on this issue is a consuming rage against undocumented workers and their families. I wouldn’t deny for a moment that some illegal immigrants create problems for our nation. But that is far from the full picture. Some people who come to America illegally, and their children, make genuine contributions to our nation. The truth is it’s a mixed bag. But Mr. King has no interest in subtleties. He is a man on a mission. He wants to get people to think of illegal immigrants and their children simply as malignancies, a kind of existential threat to American civilization (he’s compared illegal immigration to a “slow-rolling, slow motion terrorist attack on the United States” and and a “slow-motion holocaust”), as bordering on being sub-human. Which is why the rebuke of him by the House Republican leadership was wise and necessary. It is imperative that the party of Lincoln and Reagan separates itself from the views of people like Mr. King. 

There are certainly reasonable and thoughtful critics of immigration reform. Steve King doesn’t happen to be one of them. His views need to be isolated, like a contagion–not by Democrats but by his fellow Republicans. John Boehner and Eric Cantor understand that. This was an important step and I hope other Republican leaders add their own voices to those of Boehner and Cantor. Because people like Steve King aren’t going away. Rather than ignoring them, influential Republicans need to confront them, as a way to illustrate what the true convictions of the GOP are.

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GOP Leadership Seeks Its Own Rebranding

As the Republican Party rolls out its rebranding efforts today, the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” is getting the most press and the most attention. Flying slightly under the radar, however, is a piece of news related to the party’s rebranding efforts. Politico reports that a McLaughlin poll commissioned by the YG Network–an outgrowth of the “Young Guns” of the House GOP–is warning Republicans that the party’s focus on debt and deficits is missing the mark with voters.

I wrote about this subject last week, noting that the right’s focus on balancing the budget was crowding out the rest of its economic message and that it would ultimately prove a distraction from a more effective–and marketable–policy approach. Politico is reporting that the House GOP is getting similar feedback from its survey:

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As the Republican Party rolls out its rebranding efforts today, the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” is getting the most press and the most attention. Flying slightly under the radar, however, is a piece of news related to the party’s rebranding efforts. Politico reports that a McLaughlin poll commissioned by the YG Network–an outgrowth of the “Young Guns” of the House GOP–is warning Republicans that the party’s focus on debt and deficits is missing the mark with voters.

I wrote about this subject last week, noting that the right’s focus on balancing the budget was crowding out the rest of its economic message and that it would ultimately prove a distraction from a more effective–and marketable–policy approach. Politico is reporting that the House GOP is getting similar feedback from its survey:

The YG Network polling, conducted by the GOP firm McLaughlin & Associates, found that 38 percent of Americans name the “economy and jobs” as the issue of greatest importance to them. Twenty percent named “deficit and debt” as their top concern, and 16 percent pointed to health care….

The polling questions related to entitlements are just as bracing. Voters are willing to consider some changes to the Medicare system – raising the eligibility age to 67 and means-testing benefits – but less than half are enthusiastic about changing the system immediately in order to balance the budget over a decade.

Asked to choose one government program they would be willing to cut, only 14 percent of respondents named Social Security or Medicare. Just over three quarters – 76 percent – picked military spending or other, unspecified “welfare programs.”

It remains the case that cutting debt is a worthy goal and finds support among the voters. But it is simply not enough of an agenda for them. Americans have a full range of concerns tied to the current economic challenges they face, and it’s not at all clear Republicans have really been listening. This doesn’t mean conservatives in Congress have to pander by offering free goodies or more government programs. But they have to be able to offer a range of solutions.

More important than the results of the survey, however, is where it came from. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is the highest ranking “young gun” and generally seen as a conservative force in the House, pulling Speaker John Boehner to the right on legislation. But what often gets missed is that Cantor has been trying to rebrand himself as being closer to the center than he is currently thought to be:

John Murray, who heads the YG Network, confirmed that the poll was “specifically designed to challenge the assumption that spending cuts as a central theme is sufficient.”

It’s not that spending restraint is a bad issue for conservatives, according to Murray; it’s just not enough, on its own, to drive middle-class support for a center-right policy vision.

“It doesn’t feel aspirational and it doesn’t feel like a message of the future,” said Murray, who suggested conservatives need an agenda “broad enough so [Americans] feel like it impacts them in a real way.” …

“You can see where you can have a very solid center-right platform,” he said.

The “young guns” include not just Cantor but Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy as well. And it’s clear they believe the efforts to label conservatives as unconcerned about the poor and middle class are working. They seem almost to be conceding the point by talking about switching to a “center-right” agenda. As Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee last year, Ryan was visibly troubled by this on the campaign trail. He gave speeches about strengthening civil society and the need for a social safety net that encompasses more than federal welfare or entitlement programs.

What is meaningful about the McLaughlin poll, then, is that Cantor’s office wanted a survey that would justify his own desire to move away from an all-debt-all-the-time message, fully aware that he was losing the attention of the American people. And if the poll was structured to tell Cantor basically what he wanted to hear, then the results are perhaps even more significant, because a look at the results shows that what Cantor wanted to hear was more about education, energy policy, and even comprehensive immigration reform.

Quite apart from the self-conscious use of the term “center-right,” these are also issues the GOP should want to address. The GOP would almost certainly gain from taking the immigration issue off the table (though immigration reform is the right thing to do anyway). And the lack of discussion on the right about education is mindboggling. Conservatives are winning the argument on school choice and opportunity, yet find themselves mostly talking about teacher contracts. And high-profile Democratic politicians have been caught suppressing scientific studies showing the safety of economy-boosting and job-creating domestic energy production at a time of high unemployment, putting the issue of energy on a silver platter for conservatives.

The RNC reboot is getting all the attention today, but if this story is to be believed, the shift in the House GOP leadership may be of greater consequence.

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Boehner Reelected Despite Opposition

Despite some flimsy hype that 20 Republicans were going to turn against John Boehner at the speaker vote today, nothing of the sort ended up happening. Boehner won another term, with 220 votes (considering the number of abstentions, he needed 214 votes to win a majority). But he did get some retaliation from 12 Republicans who either voted for other members or sat out the vote. Dave Weigel describes the scene:

The tiny rebellion started early in the roll call, when the chair presiding over the House called on Rep. Justin Amash. Every Republican was supposed to vote John Boehner for speaker. But the Michigan sophomore cast a vote for Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho sophomore who happened to be sitting stony-faced next to him. The House floor filled with awkward “Oooohs” and the occasional “Who?”

The early part of the alphabet turned out to be trouble. Rep. Paul Broun voted for Allen West—who lost his seat last year—to become speaker. John Bridenstine, a new member from Oklahoma who upset an incumbent in a 2012 primary, voted for Eric Cantor. When Cantor’s turn came, he said “John. Boehner.” with the tone of voice you’d use on a telemarketer who put you on hold for three hours.

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Despite some flimsy hype that 20 Republicans were going to turn against John Boehner at the speaker vote today, nothing of the sort ended up happening. Boehner won another term, with 220 votes (considering the number of abstentions, he needed 214 votes to win a majority). But he did get some retaliation from 12 Republicans who either voted for other members or sat out the vote. Dave Weigel describes the scene:

The tiny rebellion started early in the roll call, when the chair presiding over the House called on Rep. Justin Amash. Every Republican was supposed to vote John Boehner for speaker. But the Michigan sophomore cast a vote for Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho sophomore who happened to be sitting stony-faced next to him. The House floor filled with awkward “Oooohs” and the occasional “Who?”

The early part of the alphabet turned out to be trouble. Rep. Paul Broun voted for Allen West—who lost his seat last year—to become speaker. John Bridenstine, a new member from Oklahoma who upset an incumbent in a 2012 primary, voted for Eric Cantor. When Cantor’s turn came, he said “John. Boehner.” with the tone of voice you’d use on a telemarketer who put you on hold for three hours.

Boehner came out of it with some bruises, but it wasn’t the civil war the left, and segments of the right, were hoping for. And that’s a good thing for Republicans, who would be in a weakened position if there was a bitter dispute over the gavel going into the debt ceiling debate.

There was never a competitive alternative for the position, anyway. Nobody in leadership was publicly contesting it, contrary to speculation that Majority Leader Eric Cantor was making moves behind the scenes. And based on his gruff vote for Boehner today, it sounds like Cantor was not happy about those rumors.

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Boehner’s Enemies

John Boehner isn’t resigning from his position as House speaker–despite dubious Internet rumors to the contrary–but there is clearly a campaign to try to push him out. Breitbart’s website, RedState, and a group called American Majority Action seem to be at the forefront.  

Boehner was already under attack from the right over last night’s fiscal cliff deal. It didn’t help that he punted on a Hurricane Sandy aid bill, sending cable-soundbite kings Chris Christie and Rep. Peter King into histrionic fits. Boehner likely calculated that the pork-filled Sandy aid bill would hurt him with conservatives after the fiscal cliff deal, so he sought a delay. But Breitbart’s website speculates that Boehner had more sinister motives:

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John Boehner isn’t resigning from his position as House speaker–despite dubious Internet rumors to the contrary–but there is clearly a campaign to try to push him out. Breitbart’s website, RedState, and a group called American Majority Action seem to be at the forefront.  

Boehner was already under attack from the right over last night’s fiscal cliff deal. It didn’t help that he punted on a Hurricane Sandy aid bill, sending cable-soundbite kings Chris Christie and Rep. Peter King into histrionic fits. Boehner likely calculated that the pork-filled Sandy aid bill would hurt him with conservatives after the fiscal cliff deal, so he sought a delay. But Breitbart’s website speculates that Boehner had more sinister motives:

Cantor wanted the bill passed before the new Congress starts on Thursday, too. And it looks like Boehner was going to go along with it and let the vote happen but canceled it all of a sudden out of bitterness after his top two deputies–Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy–voted against the “fiscal cliff” deal that passed late Tuesday. Boehner voted for the fiscal cliff deal, and Cantor’s and McCarthy’s move may mean they’ll challenge Boehner’s speakership.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel downplayed the Speaker’s reversal on providing aid to Sandy victims quickly. “The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month,” Steel said. Aides to leadership have confirmed Boehner has killed any effort to provide Sandy victims aid until next Congress.

I don’t know if Eric Cantor is actively trying to unseat Boehner behind the scenes. But if he’s not, stories like the one above make it seem like he is–and that can’t be helpful for him. It’s true that he’s the one of the few members who would have a real shot at Boehner’s position, but Boehner will most likely prevail. If it looks like Cantor’s stabbing the speaker in the back–and then loses–that’s a problem.

As Mark Levin writes on Facebook ,“I’m told Cantor’s office is leaking all over Boehner today, hoping to replace him as speaker. As far as I am concerned, Boehner, Cantor, & McCarthy need to go. All 3 of them.”

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The Boehner-Cantor Rift and the Speaker Election

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor broke with Speaker John Boehner on the fiscal cliff deal vote yesterday, fueling speculation that he may challenge Boehner in Thursday’s Speaker election. At the Guardian, Jim Antle writes

It’s rare for the top two members of the House leadership to split on an important vote. Bob Michel, the hapless leader of the House Republicans during a long period in the minority, and Newt Gingrich voted differently on the 1990 “read my lips” tax increase. They split again over the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Even less common is a House speaker and majority leader going their separate ways on big-ticket legislation. The last major example is when the Democratic-controlled House debate funding President George W Bush’s surge in Iraq. House speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed the measure to proceed to the floor and voted no. House majority leader Steny Hoyer voted yes.

House speakers typically don’t even vote at all unless it is necessary to break a tie. So it may have been a clarifying moment when speaker of the House John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor parted ways on the deal that ended the long national nightmare known as the fiscal cliff. Boehner voted for the bipartisan agreement negotiated between Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Cantor breathed the final moments of life into the opposition.

As Antle notes, despite conservative frustration with Boehner, Cantor is the only one who could potentially rally enough members behind him to seize the gavel. And Breitbart reports that there may be growing support for it:

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor broke with Speaker John Boehner on the fiscal cliff deal vote yesterday, fueling speculation that he may challenge Boehner in Thursday’s Speaker election. At the Guardian, Jim Antle writes

It’s rare for the top two members of the House leadership to split on an important vote. Bob Michel, the hapless leader of the House Republicans during a long period in the minority, and Newt Gingrich voted differently on the 1990 “read my lips” tax increase. They split again over the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Even less common is a House speaker and majority leader going their separate ways on big-ticket legislation. The last major example is when the Democratic-controlled House debate funding President George W Bush’s surge in Iraq. House speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed the measure to proceed to the floor and voted no. House majority leader Steny Hoyer voted yes.

House speakers typically don’t even vote at all unless it is necessary to break a tie. So it may have been a clarifying moment when speaker of the House John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor parted ways on the deal that ended the long national nightmare known as the fiscal cliff. Boehner voted for the bipartisan agreement negotiated between Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Cantor breathed the final moments of life into the opposition.

As Antle notes, despite conservative frustration with Boehner, Cantor is the only one who could potentially rally enough members behind him to seize the gavel. And Breitbart reports that there may be growing support for it:

“At least 20 House Republican members have gotten together, discussed this and want to unseat Speaker Boehner–and are willing to do what it takes to do it,” [American Action Majority spokesperson Ron] Meyer said. “That’s more than enough to get the job done, but the one problem these guys face is they need a leader to coalesce behind.” 

Meyer said the conservatives have considered House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to take the helm after Boehner is knocked out. His opposition from the right to the Senate fiscal cliff deal that Vice President Joe Biden cut with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a sign Cantor may try for the job. 

AMA is hardly the only conservative entity aware of the rekindled effort afoot to unseat Boehner. Another conservative with inside knowledge of the effort told Breitbart News that the movement has “new focus and juice,” and if enough members go to Boehner telling him they won’t support his re-election, that Americans should “watch for him to resign gracefully.”

AMA has been one of Boehner’s most vocal critics, so it’s not clear how much of this is just wishful thinking and how much reflects an actual burgeoning revolt. For one, Cantor’s office has downplayed his rift with Boehner, saying he stands behind the current speaker. And many members might be concerned about shaking up House GOP leadership right before the debt ceiling debate. 

Then there’s the question of how much of this the Boehner opposition brought on itself. After all, the speaker’s Plan B deal that was killed by his internal critics was better in comparison to what ended up going through yesterday. Conservatives have legitimate complaints about the final deal, and legitimate grievances about the closed-door process of negotiations. But Boehner had to play the hand he was dealt, and unfortunately for Republicans it’s been stacked against them since the November election.

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A Bad Deal Beats a Calamitous Outcome

The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

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The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

I don’t believe that narrative for a moment. Most Republicans want to take meaningful steps to re-limit government, which is entirely admirable. But they faced a particularly bad set of circumstances, and it wasn’t at all clear to me what the game plan would have been if they had succeeded in blowing up the deal passed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate. 

To have amended the Senate deal with the most minor spending cuts–essentially pocket change, given the level of deficits and debt we’re dealing with–would have been fiscally meaningless. And if an amended deal had led to no deal at all–which is precisely what would have happened–it would have been calamitous for House Republicans. There is simply no way Republicans could extract a good, or even mediocre, deal from this situation. They had to hope they could minimize the damage, retreat to safer and better ground, and think through a strategy on how to more effectively wage future battles with the president. Republicans can also take some comfort in the fact that Democrats, after having spent a decade demagoguing the Bush tax cuts, made them permanent for 98 percent of Americans. And as the dust settles on this deal, it may dawn on Republicans that Democrats, who presumably were in a position of maximum strength, didn’t get nearly as much as they hoped for. (For more, see Yuval Levin’s excellent analysis here.)   

Congressional Republicans who wanted to amend the deal sent to them by the Senate may have been engaging in a primal scream of sorts. They are enormously (and understandably) frustrated at the president’s staggering indifference to our debt crisis and their inability to do anything about it. And because this deal is so bad in so many ways, they wanted to vote against it. But if more of them had voted the way Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Eric Cantor did, they would have badly damaged their party and their country.

I for one am glad that cooler and wiser head prevailed and that this bad deal didn’t give way to a much worse outcome. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for in the aftermath of a damaging election loss.

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Cliff Win May Be Obama’s Last

President Obama got the best of both worlds with the passage of the deal to prevent the country from going over the fiscal cliff. He got the massive tax hike on wealthier Americans that he wanted and paid for it with no spending cuts. Though he acted throughout the crisis as if he might prefer the political advantage that he would gain by a Republican refusal to pass these measures, the avoidance of the cliff prevents the economy from going into a tailspin that would blight his second term. And he accomplished all this while making Republicans looking bad with the passage of the compromise being accomplished despite overwhelming opposition from the House majority caucus.

But the president’s claim that he wouldn’t have another debate with Republicans about taxes and spending in the future was a hollow challenge. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans who voted for the unsatisfactory package and ensured its passage knew that the alternative was a devastating tax hike for all Americans that would harm the economy and hurt their party for years to come. Though liberals have often claimed that it was the GOP and its Tea Party faction that was holding the nation hostage, this time it was the Democrats who were the ones with a gun to the heads of the nation. It was either vote for a tax increase for some and no spending cuts or see middle class America pay a terrible price. These circumstances won’t apply in the coming months when the debt ceiling and other budgetary measures must be passed. Though the cliff bill was a win for the president, he isn’t likely to have one like this again.

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President Obama got the best of both worlds with the passage of the deal to prevent the country from going over the fiscal cliff. He got the massive tax hike on wealthier Americans that he wanted and paid for it with no spending cuts. Though he acted throughout the crisis as if he might prefer the political advantage that he would gain by a Republican refusal to pass these measures, the avoidance of the cliff prevents the economy from going into a tailspin that would blight his second term. And he accomplished all this while making Republicans looking bad with the passage of the compromise being accomplished despite overwhelming opposition from the House majority caucus.

But the president’s claim that he wouldn’t have another debate with Republicans about taxes and spending in the future was a hollow challenge. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans who voted for the unsatisfactory package and ensured its passage knew that the alternative was a devastating tax hike for all Americans that would harm the economy and hurt their party for years to come. Though liberals have often claimed that it was the GOP and its Tea Party faction that was holding the nation hostage, this time it was the Democrats who were the ones with a gun to the heads of the nation. It was either vote for a tax increase for some and no spending cuts or see middle class America pay a terrible price. These circumstances won’t apply in the coming months when the debt ceiling and other budgetary measures must be passed. Though the cliff bill was a win for the president, he isn’t likely to have one like this again.

Before leaving the White House to continue his Hawaii vacation, the president spoke on Tuesday night as if the House vote settled for all time the question of whether he would have to deal with Republican objections to his decidedly unbalanced approach to balancing the budget. 

Far from silencing the Republicans, this debate will ensure that the House majority will be even more determined in the future to oppose the tax increases that the president has said he will push for in the future. Nor will they allow him to get anything passed without addressing the one thing that he has refused to contemplate in any serious manner: entitlement reform. He also won’t be able to count on dividing the GOP caucus as he did this time, as Speaker Boehner’s desire to do the right thing by the country estranged him from not only the Tea Partiers but much of his own leadership team. If there’s anything Obama should expect it is that this is the last time Boehner will allow House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to outflank him with most Republicans siding with him against the speaker.

That means this is also probably the last time there will be enough votes to raise taxes on anybody, especially with nothing being done about the spending problem that is at the heart of the nation’s fiscal ills.

President Obama should enjoy his victory on his plane ride to his island holiday. No amount of presidential bluster or bravado will be enough to get him another like it over the course of the coming years.

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Will Ryan Lead GOP Resistance to Deal?

As negotiations over a deal on the federal deficit continue, President Obama pressed his advantage with his House Republican antagonists yesterday with his latest speech harping on the need to raise taxes. Though he calls his plan a “balanced approach,” as the New York Times notes today, “the high-profile public campaign he has been waging in recent days has focused almost entirely on the tax side of the equation, with scant talk about his priorities when it comes to curbing spending.” That doesn’t mean that some spending cuts won’t eventually be included in any deal. But with more signs of GOP panic about being blamed for the standoff, the expectation is that the president will get a lot more than he will give in the negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner.

As Politico reports today, the outline of a deal is already in place and few in Washington believe the Republicans will stand their ground when it comes to opposing the raising of rates on wealthier Americans, even if those hikes won’t do much to solve the deficit. Even worse is the possibility that rather than just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions instead of raising rates, what will happen is that the GOP will wind up doing both while failing to extract an agreement on reforming the tax code or an end to out-of-control spending on entitlements.

But if the assumption that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will decide that discretion is the better part of valor and fold in order to avoid the fiscal cliff is correct, that leaves us with the not unimportant question of who it will be that will lead the resistance to such a deal. The answer to that question will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party as well as the 2016 presidential race.

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As negotiations over a deal on the federal deficit continue, President Obama pressed his advantage with his House Republican antagonists yesterday with his latest speech harping on the need to raise taxes. Though he calls his plan a “balanced approach,” as the New York Times notes today, “the high-profile public campaign he has been waging in recent days has focused almost entirely on the tax side of the equation, with scant talk about his priorities when it comes to curbing spending.” That doesn’t mean that some spending cuts won’t eventually be included in any deal. But with more signs of GOP panic about being blamed for the standoff, the expectation is that the president will get a lot more than he will give in the negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner.

As Politico reports today, the outline of a deal is already in place and few in Washington believe the Republicans will stand their ground when it comes to opposing the raising of rates on wealthier Americans, even if those hikes won’t do much to solve the deficit. Even worse is the possibility that rather than just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions instead of raising rates, what will happen is that the GOP will wind up doing both while failing to extract an agreement on reforming the tax code or an end to out-of-control spending on entitlements.

But if the assumption that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will decide that discretion is the better part of valor and fold in order to avoid the fiscal cliff is correct, that leaves us with the not unimportant question of who it will be that will lead the resistance to such a deal. The answer to that question will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party as well as the 2016 presidential race.

As Politico notes, the wild card in the GOP leadership is Rep. Paul Ryan, who is now back on the Hill in his role as House Budget Committee chair after his stint as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee. Reportedly, Ryan is the sole member of the top House GOP leadership who is still opposed to conceding the argument about raising taxes that his colleagues consider to be inevitable.

If Ryan came out openly against the agreement, it would take the already fractious debate about the direction of the Republican Party to a new level of contentiousness. A full-scale revolt would pit the Tea Party core of the GOP against its more pragmatic leaders with consequences that can’t be entirely predicted. That would be catnip for a liberal media that loves to depict the GOP as extremists. It could also set the stage for a difficult vote in which liberal Democrats might choose to join with conservatives in opposing an Obama-Boehner deal in the hope that sending the country over the cliff would be blamed solely on the Republicans. However, a Ryan-led opposition to a deal would be no pushover, and even the possibility of such a party split might cause Boehner to pull back from a deal that could sunder his caucus and achieve the same results.

A Ryan revolt or even a situation in which he was seen as the one member who kept the GOP true to its principles might also be the first blow in what is sure to be a protracted four-year lead-up to the 2016 presidential contest. By taking a stand now, Ryan would further establish himself as the hero of conservatives and the Tea Party even as he alienated the party’s House leadership. But it is the former rather than the latter that helps picks party nominees.

However, should Ryan decide to go along with Boehner, that won’t mean there won’t be any opposition to a pact with Obama. There will, and it will be angry and loud. But if it falls to someone like Michele Bachmann or a similar Tea Party rabble-rouser, the effect won’t be the same as if Ryan were the standard-bearer. In that case, Boehner would probably prevail. Seen in that light, Ryan’s decision may well decide the fate of any fiscal deal.

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Is Cantor Backing Off Norquist Pledge?

Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, Bob Corker, and Peter King have already distanced themselves from Grover Norquist’s pledge not to increase taxes, and now it looks like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is downplaying the pledge too:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) appeared to take a step back from anti-tax champion Grover Norquist on Monday, suggesting that a “no new taxes” pledge coordinated by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform group wouldn’t determine his legislative duties regarding ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.

“When I go to the constituents that have reelected me, it is not about that pledge,” Cantor said on MSNBC. “It really is about trying to solve problems.”

Asked if he could foresee a situation in which he would be willing to directly renounce the anti-tax pledge, Cantor dodged specifics, saying that he didn’t know because he hadn’t talked to Norquist.

This is the strongest challenge yet to Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, but it’s unclear whether any Republicans would actually follow through on the threats. Graham, for example, has said he’d go against the pledge in return for extensive concessions on entitlement reform from Democrats, which are unlikely to happen.

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Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, Bob Corker, and Peter King have already distanced themselves from Grover Norquist’s pledge not to increase taxes, and now it looks like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is downplaying the pledge too:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) appeared to take a step back from anti-tax champion Grover Norquist on Monday, suggesting that a “no new taxes” pledge coordinated by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform group wouldn’t determine his legislative duties regarding ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.

“When I go to the constituents that have reelected me, it is not about that pledge,” Cantor said on MSNBC. “It really is about trying to solve problems.”

Asked if he could foresee a situation in which he would be willing to directly renounce the anti-tax pledge, Cantor dodged specifics, saying that he didn’t know because he hadn’t talked to Norquist.

This is the strongest challenge yet to Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, but it’s unclear whether any Republicans would actually follow through on the threats. Graham, for example, has said he’d go against the pledge in return for extensive concessions on entitlement reform from Democrats, which are unlikely to happen.

But maybe it’s not just a bluff. Exit polls showed voters favor tax hikes on the wealthy, raising pressure on Republicans (especially ones like Graham, who are up for reelection) to consider it. Norquist promises he’ll target any member of congress who breaks the pledge:

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said Monday that his group, Americans for Tax Reform, would work to unseat Republicans who break their pledge to never vote for higher taxes.

His vow came after prominent GOP lawmakers said over the weekend they would consider breaking the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in order to reach a deal with Democrats and President Barack Obama to avoid tumbling over the fiscal cliff – the combination of sweeping spending cuts and tax increases that would go into effect at the end of the year if negotiators can’t reach a deal on reducing the federal debt.

Norquist said his group would “certainly highlight who has kept their commitment and who hasn’t” when it comes time for lawmakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Peter King to run for re-election, though Norquist claimed voters generally decide on their own to oust elected officials who vote to raise taxes.

Most of Norquist’s influence in Congress stems from the pledge. But without enforcement, it’s just a piece of paper. If he can’t keep members in line, the pledge becomes meaningless. Then again, Republican leadership won’t appreciate him targeting pledge defectors in 2014, particularly when control of the Senate may again be up for grabs.

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NJDC’s False Claims About Eric Cantor

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a statement this afternoon commending House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for “admit[ting] to anti-Semitism within the House Republican caucus” during an interview with Mike Allen today. The problem? Cantor never did that. In fact, when Allen asked him whether he’s detected anti-Semitism from members of Congress, Cantor replied with an unequivocal “no.”

Either the NJDC didn’t actually listen to Cantor’s comments (which you can find here), or just thought the political attack was too good to pass up. The group issued the following:

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The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a statement this afternoon commending House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for “admit[ting] to anti-Semitism within the House Republican caucus” during an interview with Mike Allen today. The problem? Cantor never did that. In fact, when Allen asked him whether he’s detected anti-Semitism from members of Congress, Cantor replied with an unequivocal “no.”

Either the NJDC didn’t actually listen to Cantor’s comments (which you can find here), or just thought the political attack was too good to pass up. The group issued the following:

In an astonishing but brutally honest admission to Politico today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—the only Jewish Republican in Congress—openly discussed the challenges of anti-Semitism and racism confronted within the House Republican caucus, adopting his questioner’s labeling of it as the “darker side” of the caucus. National Jewish Democratic Council President and CEO David A. Harris commented:

It’s both admirable and disturbing in the extreme to hear Majority Leader Cantor’s candid remarks regarding the dual challenges of racism and anti-Semitism that he has detected in the House GOP caucus. From the widespread use of abusive Holocaust rhetoric among House GOP members and candidates to behind-the-scenes skirmishes like Cantor’s own well-documented decision to oppose the reelection of Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL) over his statement to Cantor that Cantor would not be ‘saved,’ there are clearly deep-seated problems within the GOP. The time has come for more GOP leaders to have Cantor’s courage to step forward, and for the GOP to start addressing the problem directly—with actions, not just words.

The NJDC’s claim is based on a Think Progress story from earlier today headlined “Cantor Suggests Anti-Semitism is a Problem Within the House GOP Caucus,” which blatantly misrepresented (even by TP’s usual standards of accuracy) the congressman’s comments this morning. At NRO, Patrick Brennan knocks down the story:

TP reported, “Calling it the ‘darker side,’ Cantor responded to Politico’s Mike Allen’s question of whether there is anti-Semitism in Congress by trying to avoid commenting.” While TP is understandably eager to portray the House GOP caucus as “the darker side,” they’re not just spinning his words, they’re lying: Cantor answered the question directly, and didn’t attempt to avoid comment. The fact that he eventually grew tired of Allen’s games and didn’t respond to the final needling can’t be taken as evidence that he actually believes the precise opposite of his initial, straightforward response — which is exactly what TP tries to do.

Cantor’s office said the unambiguous “no” the congressman gave in response to Allen’s question speaks for itself.

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More Examples of Liberal Civility

During the weekend, in a speech in San Diego, Representative Maxine Waters said the following about Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor:

I saw pictures of Boehner and Cantor on our screens. Don’t ever let me see again, in life, those Republicans in our hall, on our screens, talking about anything. These are demons. These are legislators who are destroying this country rather than bringing us together, creating jobs, making sure we have a good tax policy, bringing our jobs from back offshore, incentivizing those who keep their jobs here. They are bringing down this country, destroying this country, because they can.

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During the weekend, in a speech in San Diego, Representative Maxine Waters said the following about Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor:

I saw pictures of Boehner and Cantor on our screens. Don’t ever let me see again, in life, those Republicans in our hall, on our screens, talking about anything. These are demons. These are legislators who are destroying this country rather than bringing us together, creating jobs, making sure we have a good tax policy, bringing our jobs from back offshore, incentivizing those who keep their jobs here. They are bringing down this country, destroying this country, because they can.

Often we speak about “demonizing” political opponents. In the case of Waters, she has literally attempted to demonize Boehner and Cantor.

On the plus side, it’s yet another insight into the insane rage that consumes many on the left. And the one person we can count on not to chastise Waters is the one person whose criticism would make a difference: Barack Obama. The man who routinely lectures the nation on civility when it comes to the right never says a word when the offenses are committed by the left. Which indicates (as if it were even a question at this point), that what’s motivating Obama is not a genuine commitment to civil public discourse. It’s narrow partisan interests.

This is what “hope and change” look like in practice.

 

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Live Blogging Tonight During the State of the Union Speech

Members of Congress may be searching across the aisle for dates for the State of the Union speech tonight (Yes, we’re talking about you, Eric Cantor — there has to be somebody other than Nancy Pelosi for you to sit with!), but readers of CONTENTIONS don’t have that problem. Tonight at 9 p.m., join CONTENTIONS contributors Alana Goodman, Abe Greenwald, and Jonathan Tobin for a live-blog session during President Obama’s State of the Union speech. See you tonight!

Members of Congress may be searching across the aisle for dates for the State of the Union speech tonight (Yes, we’re talking about you, Eric Cantor — there has to be somebody other than Nancy Pelosi for you to sit with!), but readers of CONTENTIONS don’t have that problem. Tonight at 9 p.m., join CONTENTIONS contributors Alana Goodman, Abe Greenwald, and Jonathan Tobin for a live-blog session during President Obama’s State of the Union speech. See you tonight!

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Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

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Violence and Anti-Semitism From the Left, Not the Right

The conventional wisdom of liberal America is that the Tea Party backlash against the Obama administration and its health-care law was fueled by racism, hate, and a veiled hint of violence. The idea that a grassroots movement of citizens appalled by the aggrandizement of the federal government and the administration’s overreach might rise up in protest is simply something that many, if not most, liberals can’t understand. Even the Anti-Defamation League tried to link the wackiest violent extremists and mainstream Republican critics of Obama in a controversial report.

And yet, for all the huffing and puffing about conservative hate, there was little or no evidence behind such accusations. Liberal politicians were often brusquely scolded about the Constitution at town-hall meetings by Tea Partiers — an indignity that some considered somehow non-democratic — but none were harmed.

Yet today comes a reminder that far from violence being the preserve of the right, the left is just as likely to be guilty of such incitement. As the New York Times reported on its political blog:

A Philadelphia man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to threatening Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican in the House, earlier this year. Prosecutors said that the man, Norman LeBoon, declared in a video put on YouTube that he would shoot Mr. Cantor in the head and called him and his children “Lucifer’s abominations.” … The video, prosecutors said, was put on YouTube in late March — around the time the health care overhaul became law and amid a spell of threats and acts of vandalism directed at lawmakers.

If anything, this case illustrates the not-so-tenuous connection between left-wing extremism and anti-Semitism; singling out Cantor— the only Jewish Republican in the House at the time — and referencing him in terms straight out of the traditional stereotypes of Jew-hatred is the sort of thing that ought to send alarm bells ringing among those who monitor such hatred.

The conventional wisdom of liberal America is that the Tea Party backlash against the Obama administration and its health-care law was fueled by racism, hate, and a veiled hint of violence. The idea that a grassroots movement of citizens appalled by the aggrandizement of the federal government and the administration’s overreach might rise up in protest is simply something that many, if not most, liberals can’t understand. Even the Anti-Defamation League tried to link the wackiest violent extremists and mainstream Republican critics of Obama in a controversial report.

And yet, for all the huffing and puffing about conservative hate, there was little or no evidence behind such accusations. Liberal politicians were often brusquely scolded about the Constitution at town-hall meetings by Tea Partiers — an indignity that some considered somehow non-democratic — but none were harmed.

Yet today comes a reminder that far from violence being the preserve of the right, the left is just as likely to be guilty of such incitement. As the New York Times reported on its political blog:

A Philadelphia man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to threatening Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican in the House, earlier this year. Prosecutors said that the man, Norman LeBoon, declared in a video put on YouTube that he would shoot Mr. Cantor in the head and called him and his children “Lucifer’s abominations.” … The video, prosecutors said, was put on YouTube in late March — around the time the health care overhaul became law and amid a spell of threats and acts of vandalism directed at lawmakers.

If anything, this case illustrates the not-so-tenuous connection between left-wing extremism and anti-Semitism; singling out Cantor— the only Jewish Republican in the House at the time — and referencing him in terms straight out of the traditional stereotypes of Jew-hatred is the sort of thing that ought to send alarm bells ringing among those who monitor such hatred.

Read Less




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