Move over Batman and Robin, Montana and Rice — or Burr and Hamilton.
In real life, as in fiction, history has provided memorable duos, including some great and not-so-great relationships. But on Wednesday, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told Virginia’s delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., that he and the No. 2 House Republican, Eric Cantor, the Old Dominion's native son, are now among the best of couples.
“Eric Cantor and I are partners, and I’m telling you what: You’ll see us tonight sitting together listening to Paul Ryan’s speech,” Boehner said, speaking to the Virginia contingent during its breakfast at a hotel in nearby Clearwater.
“He’s been a great partner through this last year-and-a-half, and he’ll be a great partner for a long time to come,” added Boehner.
Really? Let’s see if cameras can actually capture images of this pair sitting together in the convention hall like proud parents, watching as one of their own House Republicans, Ryan of Wisconsin, accepts the party’s nomination for vice president.
If they do, those photographs and other images should be keepers. That’s because much of the public perception, since those early days of 2011 when Boehner and Cantor took the helm of a new GOP majority, is of a pair simply having trouble sharing the wheel.
Much of this rivalry emanates from Cantor’s closer ties with the more radical and more demanding conservative factions in the Republican Conference.
But behind-the-scenes squabbling and competition between the leaders’ staffs earlier this year became so palpable that even rank-and-file colleagues questioned during a closed-door meeting whether they might be working too much at odds with each other. The worry was not just that this dysfunction was preventing House Republicans from reaching consensus more often and achieving more legislative accomplishments, but also contributing to their low public-approval ratings.
Such political “sibling” rivalries between top leaders—as recently retired Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., describes the Boehner-Cantor relationship—certainly is not new. But in the case of Boehner and Cantor, Cardoza went on to write in a column earlier this year, “Most obvious is the jealousy and back-stabbing of the majority leader, Eric Cantor.”
Even President Obama rubbed a bit of salt into that perceived wound, famously kidding the speaker at the annual Alfalfa Club Dinner, “Mr. Boehner, it's good to see you sitting at the main table. I know how badly Mr. Cantor wanted that seat!”
Apparently having had enough, both camps made it known in February that they had reached a truce, working to heal any internal divisions. And they have since been determined to project a more unified front and cohesive message.
Boehner previously downplayed the scraps as having more to do with warring staffers than personal problems between himself and Cantor. But perceptions can be hard to shake.
Just last week in Cantor’s own district in central Virginia, attendees of a town hall held by his Democratic opponent, Wayne Powell, asked Powell to opine on whether he thinks Cantor wants Boehner’s job as speaker. They did so unprompted and Powell was happy to oblige.
Powell said that if their feud was part of a play about Julius Caesar, Boehner would be Caesar and Cantor Brutus. “I mean, there’s no question that’s what he is after. There’s no question he wants John Boehner’s job.” He said that is obvious from looking at almost any photograph that captures Cantor standing behind Boehner.
But if Boehner really thinks his Ides of March is coming, he didn’t let on Wednesday. He focused his delegate breakfast appearance also on the need for Republicans to gain the Senate majority this fall, including by helping former Sen. George Allen defeat Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in their home state.
It remains to be seen if Boehner’s prediction that Cantor will “be a great partner for a long time to come” will come true. Perhaps Wendesday evening's viewing of them sitting together, and their body language, will provide some hints.