The departure of a top aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor could presage a thaw in the sometimes frosty relations between the Hill's top Republicans.
Brad Dayspring, Cantor's aggressive, sometimes confrontational deputy chief of staff, will leave Capitol Hill to advise the Young Guns Action Fund, a super PAC aimed at preserving the House Republican majority. His abrupt departure on Friday came as a surprise even to fellow leadership aides, some of whom have privately clashed with Dayspring.
No one in Republican leadership, in either chamber, had a more tough-minded or easily agitated advocate. But, over time, Dayspring's advocacy wore down some of his relationships with Capitol Hill reporters. Dayspring was accessible, yet he frequently picked fights with reporters over even the slightest note of skepticism about Cantor's skills, or perceived slights to Cantor's effectiveness.
Among House Republicans, there was a growing sense that Dayspring and his communications team worked—to put it charitably—in less than absolute harmony with House Speaker John Boehner's team. In some instances, Boehner's team felt Dayspring and those near him fed stories casting Boehner in a negative light. True or not, the perception was real and deepened the rift at the staff level between Boehner's and Cantor's offices.
Cantor's ambitions to succeed Boehner are an open secret on Capitol Hill, and his high public profile has at times raised eyebrows. A recent profile of the House majority leader on CBS's 60 Minutes and a Web video of Cantor filmed behind the scenes—a video in which Dayspring appears—struck some in other Republican leadership offices as overt efforts to raise his profile.
Boehner and Cantor have taken pains this year to minimize talk of any conflict between them, a subject that dominated end-of-the-year assessments of what bedeviled House Republicans as both unity and strategic success eluded them in the payroll tax extension fight with the White House. Dayspring's departure may lift some of the underlying tension between the two offices.
Dayspring's exit also underscores the importance Cantor's team has placed on the Young Guns Action Fund, the super PAC run by former Cantor aide John Murray, in defending the House Republican majority. Whatever Dayspring's faults as a hyper-active protector of Cantor, he is regarded—in both the policy and communications realms—as one of the best Republican operatives in Washington.
The shift in Cantor's team also reflects Cantor's desire to influence the size, shape and durability of the House Republican power structure, in a manner consistent with his long-held desire to become Speaker. Moving a senior adviser to a super PAC is a way to help Republicans where it matters most in an election year. Cantor, of course, can have no legal coordination with Young Guns but its interests and his are aligned and permanent—so long as Republicans keep control of the House.
Dayspring's move off the Hill signals, is if it weren't already clear, that the prospects of big-time legislating are over for the year and that top-level Republican operatives have turned their focus to protecting, and possibly expanding, the Republican majority.
Those closest to House Republican leadership anticipate losing no more than 10 seats this fall and, under the rosiest scenarios, gains of as many as five seats. The difference, Republican operatives believe, could lie in the effectiveness of super PACs like the Young Guns.
Reid Wilson contributed contributed to this article.