Congressional Insiders: Leadership Should Stay Out of Member-Versus-Member Primaries
Last month, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor endorsed and helped finance freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger in his primary camapign against fellow Republican Rep. Don Manzullo, he triggered what became one of the most talked about issues on Capitol Hill. Manzullo was clearly the point of the spear against Cantor, calling for Virginia Republican to step down from his leadership post. While Manzullo's feelings are stronger than most, members from both parties seem to agree that leadership should steer clear from taking sides in primaries that involve two lawmakers.
According to National Journal's Congressional Insiders Poll, 67 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Democrats think leadership has no business endorsing or spending money in such races.
Should congressional leadership take sides or spend money in a member-versus-member primary?
One Republican summed up the general feeling by saying, "It's not good for party unity."
And while Cantor was not specifically mentioned in the question, members on both sides were quick to talk about the implications of his endorsement for his political career.
"Leaders should always stay clear of Member vs. Member races," one Republican said. "Cantor's failure to do so is the biggest miscalculation of his congressional career. His enemies will use it against him for years to come. Indeed they already are."
The sentiment was echoed from the left when one Democrat said, "It will derail Cantor sooner or later."
"Who could really be surprised by another self serving move by Eric Cantor?" asked another Democrat.
Still, some members said they believe making tough choices like choosing sides in primaries is well within the realm of the job description.
"It has serious consequences for leadership but they certainly have the right to do what's necessary to shape the majority," said one Republican.
"It is courageous to do so and this town needs A LOT MORE courage," said another.
One Republican noted that if outside groups have the right to spend an unprecedented amount of money on races, then "why should leadership let outside special interest groups dictate who will be part of their caucus?"
One Democrat expressed a similar belief saying, "they should be involved in member to member primaries if they feel it is important to their party."