Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Too much tea for the GOP
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – As the second in command of House Republicans, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has a tough job. The Tea Party wing of the party looks to him as their leader at the same time he’s trying to move the GOP away from its more extremist base. In a speech this week at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, Cantor reversed his position on “dreamers,” young people brought to this country illegally by their parents, saying he now supports granting them legal residency.
Adopting the slogan, “Making Life Work” for more people, Cantor offered a wish list that includes more school choice, more flexible schedules for workers, and more readily accessible health care. It was a speech that if you closed your eyes and couldn’t see who was behind the podium, you might think it was a Democrat.
Cantor gets an A for trying to move his party to the center, at least rhetorically, but it’s a heavy lift for him to bring off. He made his reputation in the House as the brash young legislator pushing the image of the GOP as a party of “Young Guns,” a moniker that wisely has been retired in the wake of gun violence.
Now he’s trying to find a more socially pleasing platform on which to stand, but the message gets confused with the messenger. Cantor is no happy warrior; he’s gotten ahead by tapping into the anger of the Tea Party, anger so destructive that it is not an exaggeration to say that it is destroying the Republican Party from within.
Cantor has the correct instinct to try to move his party away from the extremes, but he doesn’t have the credibility or the policy chops to make his ideas plausible. He’s been carrying the banner for obstructionism, and to suddenly reverse course makes him appear more of an opportunist than a visionary.
The last happy warrior who identified as a Republican was the late Jack Kemp, a star quarterback turned politician who championed immigration reform and opportunity for minorities and was both lauded and derided as a “bleeding-heart conservative.” Kemp served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the first Bush administration, and was Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996.
No one has claimed Kemp’s mantle of political ebullience and equality, and when the Tea Party emerged during the summer of 2010, the main emotion its adherents projected was anger – anger at big government symbolized by Obamacare. Railing at government is not new in American politics, but the Tea Party, egged on by Rep. Cantor and others, offered a new vehicle of expression. Fueled by an infusion of money made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the Tea Party moved the GOP so far to the right it cannot compete nationally.
Anger as a tool in politics is powerful, but to be effective over the long run, has to be coupled with a positive vision as well. Newt Gingrich was unrelenting in his criticism of Democrats in his rise to power in the 1990’s, but he understood that wasn’t enough. Gingrich’s “Contract with America” was a coherent set of policy goals whether you agreed them or not, and when the GOP took over the House in 1994, Republicans had a whole host of legislation they could vote on. Most of it died in the Senate, but for a time, it had the appearance of action.
The Republican Party is in need of an extreme makeover, and Cantor’s “Making Life Work” speech this week is a step away from the harsh views that have defined the party. How meaningful is Cantor’s shift? Sarah Palin’s words come to mind, that the only difference between hockey moms and pit bulls is lipstick.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND