Can Eric Cantor Save the GOP?

By | Jan 28, 2013

Somehow, Cantor managed never to look too ambitious as he rocketed up the ranks. As the House GOP leadership presided over the staggering loss of more than 50 seats in the last two election cycles, the rank-and-file grew restive, some even mulling a coup. Had Cantor joined them, he might have tipped the balance. But he remained loyal to then-majority leader Roy Blunt of Missouri and his successor, John Boehner of Ohio. “Bright and able though he is, Cantor has drunk the Kool-Aid in viewing the Republican Party as a private club where personal loyalties must transcend all else,” influential conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote in 2006. Cantor’s patience and loyalty paid off. Blunt moved aside as whip last November to smooth the path for Cantor’s ascent in an ever more conservative and regionally marginalized GOP caucus.

Nationally, Cantor has steadily built political alliances, aided by his impressive fundraising talents. In his earlier role as chief deputy whip, one of his primary tasks was to form a leadership political action committee. His ERICPAC—Every Republican Is Crucial PAC—immediately exceeded all expectations. During his years in Congress, his office estimates Cantor has campaigned for other Republicans in over 80 congressional districts and raised $60 million, including $10 million for Senator John McCain’s presidential run.

In Washington, such largesse translates quickly into future favors owed. Last summer, there was speculation that McCain might name Cantor as his running mate. Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia and expert on the state’s politics, says that although Cantor was vetted, he was not considered a serious contender by GOP insiders. Sabato, in fact, believes that Cantor’s staff orchestrated the rumors. In any case, Cantor’s name was quickly eclipsed by the excitement generated by the nomination of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Like all good politicians, Cantor is adept at taking care of his constituents. Last fall he met with officials of the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects in the splendid Tudor mansion that is the group’s headquarters in Richmond. Dressed in a well-tailored light gray suit, deep blue shirt and red stripe tie, Cantor arrived punctually. The architects griped about a federal law under which 10 percent of their fees are withheld until a project is completed. Cantor listened carefully and nodded his head sympathetically. “I still consider myself a small business person,” he said. “It’s all about economics. When you put money out, you’ve got to see where you get it back,” he told the receptive audience.

Cantor still reaps the benefits of his early legal and business careers. According to a disclosure statement filed with the House of Representatives, Cantor’s investments and bank accounts range between $2.2 million and $7.1 million, generating between $148,000 and $396,000 a year in income. (Diana Cantor is also a force in the private sector. She runs Virginia Private Bank & Trust, a branch of Emigrant Bank’s wealth management division. She also earns significant income as a director of Media General, owner of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Domino’s Pizza Inc.)

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