House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is the subject of a lengthy new profile written by the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza. The piece explores Cantor’s complex relationship with tea party Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), his role in shaping the fiscal battles that have seized Washington, and his vision of the Republican Party’s future.
Below are the most notable passages from the piece, which you can read in its entirety here.
* Better pizza or better box? Cantor’s view is that Republicans face a marketing challenge, not a defect in the views they are espousing. That belief manifested itself in Cantor’s much-hyped AEI speech this month — and it says a lot about how he thinks the party should heal itself after 2012:
Since the 2012 elections, the Republicans have been divided between those who believe their policies are the problem and those who believe they just need better marketing — between those who believe they need to make better pizza and those who think they just need a more attractive box. Cantor, who is known among his colleagues as someone with strategic intelligence and a knack for political positioning, argues that it’s the box. …
As he sees it, Republicans face a marketing challenge: The problem is the box, not the pizza. In early February, before he was set to deliver a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he invited me to join him at a luncheon in an A.E.I. conference room with some dozen people who he said would be affected by the policies that he was going to discuss from the lectern.
* The blind side: Cantor’s opposition to the Biden-McConnell “fiscal cliff” compromise seemed to catch Boehner by surprise. But Cantor insists the speaker knew where he stood. This episode illustrates the complex relationship between the two Republican leaders:
According to a Republican who spoke with Boehner shortly after the drama of New Year’s Day, the Speaker was blindsided by Cantor’s public opposition to the bill: “He couldn’t believe it.” …
[Cantor] insisted that Boehner knew where he stood. “John and I were very up front with each other,” he said. “He and I had met one on one that morning.” He added, “It was my impression that we were on the same page. We both didn’t like this bill. We both did not like it and both were upset that we couldn’t have moved the needle.” (Boehner’s office said that the two men did not have a one-on-one meeting but that there was a larger leadership meeting that morning at which Cantor made it clear how he would vote.)
* The hot stove metaphor: Cantor’s chief of staff, Steve Sombres, summed up the majority leader’s approach to Washington’s various fiscal battles, including the current standoff over the sequester, in which Cantor and his team believes the GOP has some leverage. After reading the following passage, it’s not difficult to see why the GOP hasn’t caved at all in the debate over the soon-to-hit deep spending cuts:
The legislation merely delayed the fight over the debt ceiling until mid-May. In its place, Cantor and the House Republicans had engineered the battle over the sequester, which would begin on March 1st. Cantor viewed the various fiscal deadlines as what his aides referred to as hot stoves. “One is particularly hot,” Steve Stombres, Cantor’s chief of staff, said. “You touch the debt limit and you go into default, and that could be irreparable damage to our economy. But we felt like we could handle the heat of the sequester. We just needed to get them sequenced correctly and use that as an opportunity.
* Don’t vote for me: When some rogue House Republicans sought to send a message by refusing to vote for Boehner as speaker, Cantor – who received three votes for speaker – said he strongly disapproved:
I asked Cantor what he was thinking at that moment. “That we don’t need that,” he said. “That I am one hundred fifty per cent behind John Boehner as Speaker.” He insisted that the plotters were motivated by stories in the press that overhyped the idea of a split between the two leaders. “Where did they get their information to go and make their decisions?” he said, noting that two of the votes he received were from freshmen who barely knew him. “What do they know, really? I only met them a couple of times.” He added, “That’s why I was shaking my head. ‘Here we go again!’ ”
* Thanks, but no thanks: When asked by Lizza, Cantor flatly said he was not interested in running for president:
Unsurprisingly, when I asked Cantor if he was interested in running for President he responded with a resounding no.
* A little personal time: Cantor has a close relationship with his mother-in-law, with whom he does crossword puzzles. If not for the 11th hour “fiscal cliff” negotiations, he would have been on vacation with his family around New Year’s Day:
If Cantor had had his way, he would have been in Guadeloupe. “My whole family went on a cruise, and I couldn’t go,” he told me, glumly; he had to stay in Washington to deal with the fiscal-cliff crisis. His wife, Diana, said, “This was our twenty-third anniversary, and he missed my fiftieth-birthday cruise also.” Cantor called every morning to check in on her mother, who lives with them and was on the cruise. “She’s his buddy,” she said, “so he’s calling me to make sure that my mother’s happy, that I’m doing enough activities with my mother, because they do crossword puzzles together every night.”