Four years ago, Eric Cantor—then the House chief deputy minority whip—was on a short list of Republicans reportedly vetted by Sen. John McCain’s campaign as potential vice presidential picks.
This year, Majority Leader Cantor isn’t even on the short list of those speaking at the national convention. Meanwhile, Cantor’s friend, fellow House member, and “Young Gun” political ally Paul Ryan was formally nominated on Tuesday as Mitt Romney’s running mate.
Magnanimous is how some admirers describe Cantor’s absence from the convention rostrum, given that House Speaker John Boehner and several other House Republicans have leading roles. Brad Dayspring, a former Cantor staffer and now an adviser to the YG Action Fund political action committee, says the Virginian has always been excited to extend the spotlight to the “next generation” of conservatives.
But Cantor’s detractors suggest another narrative—that Romney and other national Republicans prefer to hide him from the television-viewing masses, particularly from potential swing voters.
“If I were Mitt Romney, I wouldn’t want the leader of the most unpopular Republican Congress in history—the face of the obstruction that voters are rejecting—to speak at my nominating convention either,” said a Democratic Party strategist who asked not to be identified.
Cantor’s office says he wasn’t offered, and didn’t seek, a speaking role. Spokesman Doug Heye ticked off a long list of newspaper interviews and TV appearances that Cantor is doing in Tampa, indicating that he is anything but invisible.
Adds David (Mudcat) Saunders, a Democratic strategist advising Cantor’s challenger this fall, Wayne Powell: “This is Romney’s dance, it’s not a debutante ball, as Cantor would have you believe.... [Romney’s] already tied to a dysfunctional Congress, and Mitt knows Eric Cantor can nail him to it.”
Of course, Romney already has a major link to Congress in Ryan, the House Budget chairman. It was with Ryan and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., that Cantor founded the Young Guns brand, which is credited with recruiting dozens of the freshmen who helped bring the GOP into the House majority in 2010.
But more so than Boehner’s, some of Cantor’s uncompromising positions, combined with occasional personal bluster, have drawn less-than-positive attention. Exam-ples include his abrupt exit from debt-ceiling talks last August or his much-publicized flare-up with President Obama at the White House. To some, Cantor represents internal dissension within the GOP, too. At a campaign town hall meeting last week held by Powell in Bon Air, Va., several attendees raised questions, unprompted, concerning Cantor’s support of a young House freshman over a veteran GOP member in a primary earlier this year. Some also speculated that Cantor is maneuvering to challenge Boehner for the speakership.
The Powell campaign says polling results from Hickman Analytics gauging sentiment in Cantor’s Republican-leaning central Virginia district show that although the Democrat is not well-known, Cantor is not particularly popular. Nonetheless, some of Cantor’s fellow House conservatives welcome him on the stump back home.
Heye noted that a handful of House members and candidates are speaking at the convention but most are not, including others in the leadership such as McCarthy and House Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas. Boehner, officially the convention chairman, had a prominent speaking slot on Tuesday.
Cantor was slated to speak in Minneapolis-St. Paul four years ago but was bumped from the schedule by Gustav, another hurricane that mucked up the GOP schedule.
Asked why the second-most-powerful House member was shunned this time around, convention spokesman James Davis would say only: “The Republican Party has a deep bench of articulate leaders that share Mitt Romney’s vision for a better America.”