Soundly defeated in the 2012 election, Republicans seem determined to wallow in the same conservative quagmire that caused the loss. The party is fractured internally and a brief attempt to distance radical Tea Party ways to a more reasonable centrist and inclusive position was short lived.
However, political chameleon House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has his feet in both boats, which makes for unsteady footing. Is his recent moderate posturing on advancing education and jobs skills programs altruistic or survival tactics?
A report in Polico put it this way: “Cantor’s move to the middle comes as many national Republicans are looking to broaden the Party’s appeal after a disastrous election in which they failed to win the White House or the Senate and lost seats in the House. A message beyond balancing budgets and fiscal brinksmanship could help on that front.”
Canter gave a speech at Harvard on Monday where he said: “Our party needs to do a better job at getting to know different constituencies. One of my priorities this Congress will be to move heaven and earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable.”
Republican concern for “the most vulnerable” has been sorely lacking in the real world of politics from the day President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and it has been relentlessly demonstrated by fights over every issue in Congress, including the failed Grand Bargain negotiations in 2011 when Cantor talked House Speaker John Boehner out of accepting Obama’s tax deal. As the president sat in the White House waiting for a call from Boehner, Cantor argued that giving a victory to Obama could cost them the election. If they had a Republican president, Cantor reasoned, they could strike a better deal.
This is what Ryan Lizza wrote about the Grand Bargain negotiations in his profile on Eric Cantor in the March 4 edition of The New Yorker:
"Boehner told Obama there was no deal. Instead of a Grand Bargain, Cantor and the House Republicans made a grand bet. The bet failed spectacularly. Just as Cantor had urged, Obama and Romney spent much of the campaign debating tax and spending policies that the House Republicans had foisted on the Romney-Ryan ticket. What’s more, by scuttling the 2011 Grand Bargain negotiations, Cantor, more than any other politician, helped create the series of fiscal crises that have gripped Washington since Election Day."
In addition, Cantor didn’t show much concern for vulnerable Americans when he voted “no” on the first emergency package for victims of Hurricane Sandy or when he voted “no” on New Year’s Eve Fiscal Cliff deal.
Cantor may be joining Republicans like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in suggesting the Party avoid “sideshow traps,” but he has been one of the most influential, if more diplomatic, obstacles in the way of advancing legislation to benefit the American public.
However, Cantor’s weathervane has been changing lately to match political winds.
After Obama gave his Inaugural address, and radical conservatives were complaining about its “liberal” content, Cantor attempted to be the voice of reason.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “I think he checked the box with some of those who are in the base on his side. If he’s interested in wanting to work with us, we’re going to be there waiting and interested to do so. We really need to be focused on trying to accomplish something, being results-oriented, and not beating our chests.”
Cantor said in Lizza’s interview that he believes House Republicans got too full of unrealistic expectations and that he aims to change the direction of the Party.
“The job right now is, first of all, accepting the fact that although we’re a majority in the House, we are a minority in Washington. It’s run by the Democrats, and so we’ve got to be smart about how we go forward," he said.
If Cantor is serious about moving into a more reasonable position on issues to widen the Republican tent, then he should distance himself from Rep. Paul Ryan (R- WI) and his latest austerity budget, which hurts the poor and makes so many leaps and assumptions in mathematical equations it is being panned as a draconian wish-list that can’t be taken seriously.
Disingenuous or not, Cantor’s new Republican lite won’t go over well with the most bellicose members of his Party and there are a lot of them.