Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kevin McCarthy

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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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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Lawmakers Plead for Sanity

Top Republican House members, including Reps. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Pete Session, have written a letter to the president, which reads in part:

Despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s admission that the ill-timed announcement of the approval of a residential development was “regrettable,” it is our understanding that at your direction, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chastised the Prime Minister on the phone and then in public. Furthermore, your Senior Advisor, David Axelrod, chose to excoriate Israel on national television. Your Administration’s decision to escalate this issue is extremely harmful to US-Israeli relations, which, according to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, are now at a 35-year low.

While your Administration clamors over the announcement of a proposed residential development years away from completion, fran continues to develop its nuclear weapons capability and Hamas and Hezbollah rearm and re-energize. Remarks made by your Cabinet and advisers embolden Israel’s enemies — who are wholly committed to destroying the Jewish State — and undermine the critical relationship we have with our strongest ally for democracy and peace in the Middle East.

Israel has demonstrated its willingness to advance the peace process — even when its concessions have led to decreased security. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the region became a haven for Hamas and led to repeated rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli cities. It is therefore unrealistic for you to request that Israel continue to make significant confidence building gestures while putting no real pressure upon the instigators of armed violence.

Instead of continuing to make unrealistic demands of Israel, we encourage you and your Administration to address the real issues threatening stability in the region. We  respectfully request that you publicly express the United States’ unwavering support for Israel, acknowledge its status as a willing partner in the peace process, and reiterate its sovereign right to defend itself against attacks from those who seek its destruction.

Democrats who posit themselves as friends of Israel are now in a quandary: remain silent or try to drag the administration back into the bipartisan consensus on Middle East policy?

The newly Democratic Arlen Specter tried his best in a floor speech. He got off to a very poor start, misrepresenting that “there are 1,600 new settlements in East Jerusalem in violation of Israeli commitments.” To the contrary, the apartment complex is not a “settlement,” nor is this part of an Israeli commitment. The Israeli government never pledged to forgo building in its eternal and undivided capital. He concedes, “that Prime Minister Netanyahu was blindsided by the announcement. It is further acknowledged that the Israeli Minister of the Interior is a member of the ultra-conservative Shaos party whose participation is essential to the continuation of the coalition government.” And he implores the administration to get a game plan:

These matters need to be thought through before making public pronouncements that could significantly damage the U.S.-Israeli relationship and give aid and comfort to the enemies of the Mideast peace process.  The rock solid alliance between the United States and Israel has withstood significant disagreements for six decades. The mutual interests which bind these two countries together have always been stronger than the most substantial differences. The United States needs to respect Israeli security interests, understanding that Israel cannot lose a war and survive. The United States has many layers of defense to protect our security interests and survive.

I suggest that if we all take a few deep breaths, think through the pending questions and reflect on the importance of maintaining U.S.-Israeli solidarity, we can weather this storm.

Democrat Robert Andrews has sent his own letter pleading that “minor policy differences” not be allowed to disrupt the relationship and imploring the administration to work out “differences in private whenever possible.”

Allowing for understandable partisan differences and some egregious factual errors, the message is the same: enough already. The Obami have few defenders on this one and many anxious lawmakers. It seems as though once again this gang did not think through the ramifications — either domestic or international — of their own actions.

Top Republican House members, including Reps. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Pete Session, have written a letter to the president, which reads in part:

Despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s admission that the ill-timed announcement of the approval of a residential development was “regrettable,” it is our understanding that at your direction, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chastised the Prime Minister on the phone and then in public. Furthermore, your Senior Advisor, David Axelrod, chose to excoriate Israel on national television. Your Administration’s decision to escalate this issue is extremely harmful to US-Israeli relations, which, according to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, are now at a 35-year low.

While your Administration clamors over the announcement of a proposed residential development years away from completion, fran continues to develop its nuclear weapons capability and Hamas and Hezbollah rearm and re-energize. Remarks made by your Cabinet and advisers embolden Israel’s enemies — who are wholly committed to destroying the Jewish State — and undermine the critical relationship we have with our strongest ally for democracy and peace in the Middle East.

Israel has demonstrated its willingness to advance the peace process — even when its concessions have led to decreased security. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the region became a haven for Hamas and led to repeated rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli cities. It is therefore unrealistic for you to request that Israel continue to make significant confidence building gestures while putting no real pressure upon the instigators of armed violence.

Instead of continuing to make unrealistic demands of Israel, we encourage you and your Administration to address the real issues threatening stability in the region. We  respectfully request that you publicly express the United States’ unwavering support for Israel, acknowledge its status as a willing partner in the peace process, and reiterate its sovereign right to defend itself against attacks from those who seek its destruction.

Democrats who posit themselves as friends of Israel are now in a quandary: remain silent or try to drag the administration back into the bipartisan consensus on Middle East policy?

The newly Democratic Arlen Specter tried his best in a floor speech. He got off to a very poor start, misrepresenting that “there are 1,600 new settlements in East Jerusalem in violation of Israeli commitments.” To the contrary, the apartment complex is not a “settlement,” nor is this part of an Israeli commitment. The Israeli government never pledged to forgo building in its eternal and undivided capital. He concedes, “that Prime Minister Netanyahu was blindsided by the announcement. It is further acknowledged that the Israeli Minister of the Interior is a member of the ultra-conservative Shaos party whose participation is essential to the continuation of the coalition government.” And he implores the administration to get a game plan:

These matters need to be thought through before making public pronouncements that could significantly damage the U.S.-Israeli relationship and give aid and comfort to the enemies of the Mideast peace process.  The rock solid alliance between the United States and Israel has withstood significant disagreements for six decades. The mutual interests which bind these two countries together have always been stronger than the most substantial differences. The United States needs to respect Israeli security interests, understanding that Israel cannot lose a war and survive. The United States has many layers of defense to protect our security interests and survive.

I suggest that if we all take a few deep breaths, think through the pending questions and reflect on the importance of maintaining U.S.-Israeli solidarity, we can weather this storm.

Democrat Robert Andrews has sent his own letter pleading that “minor policy differences” not be allowed to disrupt the relationship and imploring the administration to work out “differences in private whenever possible.”

Allowing for understandable partisan differences and some egregious factual errors, the message is the same: enough already. The Obami have few defenders on this one and many anxious lawmakers. It seems as though once again this gang did not think through the ramifications — either domestic or international — of their own actions.

Read Less




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