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The Eric Cantor Effect: Halfway There

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Earlier this week, Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) was on The Daily Show promoting a new book about how the younger generation of Republicans wants to reform their party and Congress.

Stewart asked the right questions and pushed Cantor enough to provide an excellent illustration of how far the New Radicalism has taken us and also of what still needs to be done to complete the transformation of our government from the monstrosity which it has become to what it was intended to be and what the people want it to be.

After this interview I’m calling this the “The Eric Cantor Effect,” because the degree to which we can influence this misguided but still malleable Republican moderate and bring him around to see what the people want, is a bellweather for the success of the efforts of groups like the tea parties and the Republican Liberty Caucus to use the Republican Party to institute substantive government reforms leading to a return to Constitutionally limited government and real respect for individual liberty.

Cantor has not yet been fully converted, but he seems to be starting to grasp the substance behind the anger of the people and is clearly trying to respond to it. His discussion with Stewart is an interesting illustration of the struggle he is going through. He’s part way there. When we manage to fully inform and transform Congressmen like Cantor who can be influenced, then we will have succeeded.

Stewart: You voted for No Child Left Behind. You voted for REAL ID. You voted for the Medicare bill which is a trillion dollars unfunded. You voted for the PATRIOT Act. In what way are you a limited government…in what way do you want to shrink government. Because your record is clearly not…doesn’t speak to that.

Cantor: John, first of all, I’m here to say we understand we got fired and there was a reason.

Stewart: So you would take all those votes back.

Cantor: I would take all those votes back, but what I can tell you on…

Stewart: You would take most of those votes back.

Cantor: On the REAL ID issue you better believe government’s got a role in making the airways safe.

Stewart: But that’s my point. You pick and choose. When you people say ‘I want smaller government,’ they want smaller government for where they want it to be small. Each political party makes choices for where they want government to be more powerful.

Cantor: They want a Constitutionally limited government and the Constitution is very explicit when it comes to national defense…

Stewart: They would make the case that it’s very explicit about the commerce clause. You can always make that case.

Cantor: I mean, national defense is fairly straightforward. I mean I think the commerce clause is where things have gotten a little vague.  There’s been abuse. I mean we were responsible..

Stewart: But in’t there abuse in also the defense industry, in the military industrial complex.

Cantor: Absolutely. Nobody is going to defend every expense going on in the Pentagon for sure. What we’re about in the book is saying ‘accountablity’ You know, that we can’t afford to keep spending money we don’t have and people are fed up.

The highlighting here is mine, and it illustrates the points which Cantor is beginning to understand, a transformation which we hope is also happening in the minds of other Republicans who have not been in office too long and become too corrupt to listen to the people.

Cantor does seem to understand that it’s about limiting government, about restoring adherence to the Constitution, and about reducing spending. He even seems to half understand that cutting defense is a big part of it, but clearly he has some reluctance to accept the full implications of that. He also seems not to get what Stewart clearly does get, which is that intrusions on individual liberty like REAL ID are also a major part of the problem. But he’s come part way. He knows the people are angry and he’s at least accepted some of the reasons. And perhaps most importantly he has admitted fault, repudiated his past behavior and shown a willingness to change. Cantor also seems to realize that there will be accountability in the future. He may not fully understand what that means, but he knows enough to be scared.

With legislators like Cantor starting to see the light, we’ve already made remarkable progress towards reclaiming our government. But despite his 11th hour conversion, relying on him and his “Young Guns” (the title of his book) to make the changes we want is unlikely to be sufficient. They are too tainted already and too prone to backsliding and repeating their past mistakes. They need to be further educated and to be have their feet held to the fire every day until they truly abandon their old ways and become real representatives of the people.

They will play an important role in reclaiming our government, but more important will be the small but determined group of newly elected Congressmen and Senators who will join them after the November election. With no history of corruption and a much more intimate understanding of the demands and anger of the people, they will form a new power block and a new cadre of leaders who may not lead by seniority but will lead with a moral authority which will cause weak reeds like Cantor to bend to their wind.

It’s very good news that Cantor and others like them are seeing and admitting their past errors. They still have miles to go before the people will truly forgive them, and it is essential that in the future they and all elected officials be held accountable and be reminded that they serve the people of this nation and not just the special interests and insider power cliques which have led them astray in the past.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • roger nowosielski


    The very reference to Cantor as one of the leaders of the “Young Guns” already speaks volumes. Likewise with the primary victories of the Tea Party candidates and the ensuing criticism of all such by the luminaries of the Republican establishment by Karl Rove and the likes, shortly after retracted. If there is one good thing to emerge out of the Tea Party movement, which appears to be making inroads into the rank and file, it’s the anti-Establishment spirit.

    In a sense, we both seem to be coming to a sort of convergence, from opposite directions, I might add. The size of the government has got to be reduced and welfare state is not a solution. If anything, it’s an impediment to a solution (see my forthcoming article, “In Defense of Anarchism, Part II”). Of course, we may disagree on such concepts as statehood. My thinking is, that’s the source of all our problems, and the welfare state only exacerbates it. So yes, individual liberties and communal autonomy are the values worth fighting for, provided of course there will also be a provision for equality of opportunity and a measure of “social justice” without the accoutrements of the State.

    Anyway, my writing on the subject is experimental in nature, if only to see how far I can push the concept of a stateless society, to test the limits.

  • El Bicho

    “Cantor does seem to understand that it’s about limiting government,”

    More like he understands what needs to be said to get his power back because Republican voters are apparently easily manipulated, like spousal-abuse victims. The guy voted wrong on so many issues but Republicans, but he’s sorry, baby, and promises not to do it again.

  • handyguy

    Cantor came across pretty weasely, as usual. Stewart was brilliant…he is underrated as an interviewer. [It is also amusing that they are exactly the same age, are both Jewish, and both went to William and Mary.]

    Dave doesn’t say so explicitly, but in addition to the unconvincing yeah-yeah rhetoric about defense spending [meaningful defense cuts will be opposed by most Republicans], the thing to be worried about, the thing Cantor and others won’t let go of, is social conservatism.

    They will hold on to gays and abortion as wedge issues as long as possible.

  • Dave Nalle

    Roger, Cantor is the one who self-defined as one of the “young guns” which is largely an example of wishful thinking. He wants his picked allies to be seen as the real force for reform, while we all know full well that there is a body of real reformers coming to Congress in a few months who know what Cantor represents and despise him.

    What is important, however, about Cantor’s efforts to redefine himself, is that it means that when the real reformers get to Washington he will find himself forced to ally with them, so the changes they bring will ultimately have more votes behind them because weasels like Cantor want to be on the winning side.

    As for Handy’s “wedge issues” we’ll see how well they hold up as John Dennis continues to rise in national prominence. With the attention his race against Pelosi is getting, Dennis may become the new face of the GOP and it’s a pro-gay, pro-pot, anti-war face.


  • handyguy

    John Dennis? Nationally prominent? Christine O’Donnell is far more nationally prominent [not that this is a good thing], and they have about the same chance of winning.

  • handyguy

    Let’s talk hard numbers: The NY Times did an excellent analysis of House and Senate races earlier this week:

    Of 129 Tea Party candidates for the House,

    7 are running in solidly Republican districts — all but one of those seats is now held by a Republican.

    Another 7 are running for seats currently held by Democrats but in districts leaning toward the Tea Party Republican.

    19 are in tossup races, for seats that are held, with the exception of two, by Democrats.

    And 29 are running for seats in districts that are leaning Democratic — of those, only one is currently held by a Republican.

    67 are challenging Democrats who are expected to win — though this is a year when the unexpected has been more rule than exception.

    If this analysis is correct, and if the 51 current members of the House Tea Party Caucus all win reelection, that’s 84 House seats out of probably 225 Republicans total. [I hope for less, but that’s the latest Real Clear Politics estimate.]

    In the Senate, the numbers of Tea Party candidates and winners are much smaller — probably half a dozen new senators in January added to current sympathizers like DeMint and Coburn.

    So 15-20 senators and 80-90 House members will be classifiable as Tea Party-approved. What this means going forward is open to speculation.