He’s not that guilty


The Hill wrote about it last week, and today Politico adds to the chatter that House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) star is dimming:

Yet six weeks after the stimulus vote, Cantor finds himself at least momentarily on the defensive, the result of unforced errors, squabbles with other party leaders, a Democratic push to label him “Dr. No” — and the indignity of having his name appear in print next to the words “Britney Spears.”

No one thinks Cantor is in serious trouble, and there’s a real possibility that not a single House Republican will vote yes on Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget.

But the GOP’s meteoric star has slipped a bit this month — and his enemies couldn’t be happier.

Nancy Pelosi’s allies joke about Cantor’s ambition, saying it’s exposed him to what the speaker often describes as a “hedge clipping” — Washington’s ritual lopping-off of any political head which peeps too high above the rank and file.

“Snip, snip,” said one Democrat staffer.

“His potential is to push the GOP in a new direction and help it compete with 40-and-under voters, two generations that the Republicans are at risk of losing wholesale,” says Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein. “But so far, he’s firing nothing but honeysuckled blanks.”

Cantor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comments. But other Republicans say that writing off Cantor is just wishful thinking by Democrats hoping to knock off a dangerous adversary.

Interestingly, it notes that the only Jewish Republican in the House lost one intra-party battle in which he was probably correct:

Tensions within Republican leadership came to a head late last week in a tactical spat between Cantor and Republican Conference Committee Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.). The two split over Pence’s plan to put out an abbreviated budget “blueprint” on Thursday to respond to Obama’s claims that the GOP had no alternatives.

Cantor, according to House Republican staffers, wanted to wait until Ryan, the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, produced a more detailed budget alternative with dollar estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

In the end, Boehner backed Pence — and the GOP leadership gathered for its press conference. The leaders were widely mocked for handing out a sketchy 19-page document short on details. Cantor slipped out of the press conference early but joined the other leaders in a closed-door meeting afterward to sort out their differences and present a united public front.

What caught my eye, though, was this passage:

Meanwhile, Wonkette was reporting that Cantor spent the night of Obama’s Tuesday prime-time news conference at D.C.’s Verizon Center, attending a fundraiser held during a Britney Spears concert.

Cantor tried to laugh off the episode, telling interviewers he enjoyed the show but that his daughter was “angry” she wasn’t invited.

He bristled when NPR’s John Hockenberry asked him if his appearance was intended as a snub of Obama, saying, “I don’t know why that’s an issue whatsoever. There was a concert, and I had a political event at that concert. Look, that is why I was there.”

“It seems trivial, but it’s not,” says one GOP operative. “He’s a serious guy; he’s competent and credible, and that’s what his reputation is based on. That Britney thing undermines him.”

"A snub of Obama?" You’ve got to be kidding. If this was the State of the Union addresss or another speech to a joint session of Congress, yes. But this was a presidential press conference, to which Congress wasn’t invited. Furthermore, the Obama press conference was only scheduled a week earlier, while Britney’s concert — and I presume the fundraiser — was planned months earlier. I’m sure Cantor set his DVR.

Actually, though, to me the fuss over this smacks of snobbiness over musical taste. Sure, the idea of Cantor being a Britney fan seems a little odd. But if Cantor or any other member of Congress had spent the night of Obama’s presser at a Bruce Springsteen or U2 concert, would anyone in the media portray that as a "snub" of the president? Of course not — they’d just say that he had gotten the tickets months before and some things were more important than politics. And they’d be correct. Just because Cantor may enjoy Spears’ music (and lip-synching), it should be any different?

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