Yet on Wednesday night, as Ryan strode to the podium to accept the Republican Party’s vice presidential nomination, his two longtime friends were far from the stage. They were in a suite overhead at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, watching as Ryan moved into an undisputed role: top gun among the Young Guns and a future leader of the GOP. His biggest asset? Boldness.
Cantor, once whispered about as a potential Mitt Romney running mate, is in the background this week at the Republican National Convention, where the focus has been on touting governors and female politicians to try to expand the party’s appeal. His allies and advisers say that is fine with Cantor, who is genuinely excited for his close friend Ryan. But his role out of the spotlight follows a finely designed effort in Cantor’s camp to reshape his image, which was battered throughout 2011, his first year as House majority leader.
Last fall, President Obama began singling out Cantor by name on the stump for his opposition to any increase in taxes. Democrats openly said that their game plan was to make Cantor “the face of Republican obstructionism,” hoping he would become an unpopular symbol of an unpopular Congress, the same way Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did during their runs as House speaker.
Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), a close ally of Cantor’s, called the Democratic effort “Chicago-style politics at its worst” and said the majority leader has a long-term plan for how to push his conservative vision.
“He’s not going to let attacks from Obama or anyone else deter him,” Bolling said, noting that Cantor’s role in a Romney-Ryan administration would be that of a confidant implementing the agenda on Capitol Hill. “I think he would be one of the go-to guys, no doubt about that.”
What’s his next move?
This has meant tamping down talk of what Cantor wants to do next, something that several years ago became a running parlor game on Capitol Hill. His name was floated for vice president, Virginia governor, senator and House speaker, creating an image of someone who was hardworking but who was seemingly always angling for the next move.
Some in Cantor’s camp say they do not know where his long-term interest lies, and several suggest that he does not aspire to become House speaker. Instead, his focus for now is on retaining the GOP majority in the House, helping Romney defeat Obama and aiding Republicans in taking control of the Senate. The latter two goals involve bringing the Old Dominion in for Romney and helping George Allen in his Senate bid.
“I can tell you he is committed 100 percent to getting us to a balanced budget and full employment,” said Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Va.), a freshman from a district that abuts Cantor’s Richmond-based district.