Several weeks ago, somewhat to my surprise, Eric Cantor cleverly positioned himself to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House when he walked out of negotiations with President Obama, leaving Boehner to close the deal. Ultimately, I figured, Boehner would be forced to cut a deal with Obama (because, as every responsible person knows, it is simply unthinkable not to raise the debt ceiling), but many Republicans, especially the Tea Party faction, would nonetheless find parts of it unpalatable.
Boehner, to his credit, seemed at least willing to discuss the so-called grand bargain with Obama. More likely than not, Boehner recognized a good political deal when he saw it (as I suspect McConnell did, too). Sure, they would have had a problem with Grover Norquist over the revenue increases, but the political benefits for Republicans from the so-called grand bargain would have been huge: big expense cuts, fundamental changes to Medicare and Social Security, and driving a wedge between Obama and his base on the issue of entitlements — and all in exchange for closing a few indefensible tax loopholes for oil companies and hedge fund managers.
The great benefit for Cantor was that he could have, as a member of leadership, embraced this deal as a huge political victory, while at the same time, as a leader of the Tea Party faction within the GOP Conference, using it as a bludgeon against Boehner.
Fortunately for Democrats and Progressives, it did not work out that way. Thank you Eric Cantor!
(more on the flip)
It is now conventional wisdom that Cantor was the primary stumbling block to this once-in-a-lifetime (for the GOP, that is) debt limit deal.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, arguably the second most powerful position in the United States, was within Cantor’s grasp, but it has now become clear that Cantor apparently stumbled blindly into this advantageous strategic position, as over the past 48 hours Cantor has demonstrated that he is too dense, too unethical and too egotistical to have positioned himself like this as a matter of calculation.
What’s more, in revealing his true nature to America, Cantor is coming off in the national media as sneering, petulant and immature.
Cantor’s unethical, incompetent and amateurish behavior is nothing new to us, of course. It is amusing, however, the see the truth dawning on the rest of our political and media classes.
Over the last 48 hours it has also seeped into conventional Washington wisdom that Cantor acted unethically in disclosing confidential negotiating terms of the Biden talks, and misrepresenting those negotiations to his conference, leading them to falsely believe that Obama had agreed to $2 trillion in cuts when Obama, in fact, did nothing of the kind.
According to blogger Jonathan Bernstein:
It seems that Cantor has been going around with a slide show claiming that Barack Obama had agreed to spending cuts negotiated during the Biden sessions, although in fact those cuts were predicated (for Obama) on tax increases that Cantor, famously, rejected so strongly that he ended the sessions over them.
But I do think it’s important to appreciate that this kind of partial leaking of the contents of negotiations has the tendency to poison the atmosphere. The whole reason that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to” is that to reach a bargain you need to have a pretty open and flexible discussion. If everyone in the room knows that Cantor has no compunction about misrepresenting every discussion as an agreement, it merely makes it that much harder for people to negotiate in a serious way.
The prospects for an agreement now are worse because of Rep. Cantor’s presence in them. That’s not because he’s a conservative — so, obviously, are Boehner and McConnell. It’s because he’s acting like a weasel.
It isn’t hard to see how Cantor’s antics poisoned the atmosphere and torpedoed the debt limit deal. Once Cantor convinced the Tea Party faction, falsely, that Obama would accept $2 trillion in expense cuts, it makes perfect sense that such “facts” would simply confirm their anti-tax worldview, and they would refuse to even talk about any tax increases.
In fact, while Cantor’s intransigence might make Tea Partiers feel tough, he has done great harm to the political goals of the Tea Party faction. However the debt limit dispute plays out, the faction as been exposed and delegitimized as phony, extremist and out of touch with economic and political reality. Once they regroup, I suspect they will not be happy with their feckless leader through this debacle.
Boehner came to Cantor’s rescue today at a press conference on Capital Hill, in which he allowed Cantor to assert that the two have been working together. In truth, however, that makes Cantor’s situation even worse. He looked like a kid who needed his dad to come rescue him.
For the time being, at least, Cantor is now nothing more than Boehner’s concubine.