Who Will The House Republicans Pick To Replace Eric Cantor?
I'm no expert in the internecine struggles of the Republican Party but I can smell smoke when something is burning. Exactly one week ago we saw that something was fraying badly inside the House Republican caucus, with sleazy Mr. Majority Leader funneling large sums of money into an outside accountability group that is using it to primary Republican incumbents. The Campaign for Primary Accountability professes to be battling corrupt incumbents of both parties. I'm most interested in the outstanding work they're doing against corrupt Blue Dog Tim Holden in Pennsylvania. It's the best! But the GOP House caucus is roiled to the breaking point over Cantor's participation in this feared and now hated SuperPac of right-wing good government types trying to end their careers.
Cantor claimed the money he gave them was targeted specifically at Don Manzullo (R-IL) who he was publicly trying to defeat in the incumbent vs incumbent battle with Adam Kinzinger. Republican closet case Aaron Schock has somehow managed to flit into the situation and insert himself in the middle of it and now it comes out that Cantor is also trying to purge Walter Jones (R-NC). A worse revelation is that the money that Cantor was funneling into the PAC wasn't really targeted-- certainly not in any binding way-- and it could easily be used in campaigns against garden variety corrupt Republicans the PAC is looking at defeating like, for example, Dan Lungren (R-CA), Oily Joe Barton (R-TX), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Tim Murphy (R-PA), Kenny Marchant (R-TX), Howard Coble (R-NC), John Culberson (R-TX), Brian Bilbray (R-CA), and Gary Miller (R-CA). Boehner, Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, and NRCC Chair Pete Sessions say they hadn't received advance word that the contribution had been made and they seem content to let Cantor twist in the wind. Now Cantor is in damage control mode.
By Friday evening, Cantor launched an outreach effort to quell the damage caused by his donation to the Houston-based super PAC that has been trying to unseat members of both parties in primary elections. With members settling in for the holiday weekend, multiple House GOP aides said the Virginia Republican had begun phoning colleagues who the Campaign for Primary Accountability had targeted to smooth over any hurt feelings.
CPA has caused widespread consternation on Capitol Hill after spending $132,000 to run ads against Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), who lost unexpectedly in a March 6 primary, and more than $203,000 against Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.). In addition to expenditures against a handful of incumbent Democrats, the super PAC has spent funds to unseat Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and is currently involved in efforts against Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), who faces a primary challenge on April 24.
Last month, the NRCC announced that it was severing relationships with several campaign consulting firms that had done business with the super PAC.
Cantor’s contribution came during last month’s heated incumbent vs. incumbent primary between GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Don Manzullo, a contest where Manzullo was targeted with more than $200,000 in CPA spending. The super PAC had been running TV ads against Manzullo, a 20-year-incumbent who had been drawn into the same district as the freshman Kinzinger, whom Cantor was openly supporting.
Cantor’s decision to endorse Kinzinger had already been the source of widespread discomfort in House GOP ranks. After Cantor announced that he was supporting Kinzinger on March 8, a little less than two weeks before the primary, Boehner and McCarthy both called Manzullo to distance themselves from Cantor’s endorsement and to promise him they were remaining neutral.
During the final days of the primary battle, Manzullo lashed out at Cantor, calling on him to step down from his leadership position and loudly complained about a Cantor-aligned super PAC, Young Guns Action Fund, that had begun running radio ads backing Kinzinger.
Ray Allen, Cantor’s political consultant, said in a written statement that Cantor’s donation to CPA had been earmarked expressly for use in the Illinois race and not in any other contests. Allen also said that Cantor had made the contribution after being approached by Rep. Aaron Schock, an Illinois Republican who also supported Kinzinger and who had asked Cantor to donate to CPA.
“On Thursday, March 15, 2012, Leader Cantor was asked by Congressman Schock to contribute to an organization that was supporting Adam Kinzinger in the Illinois election of March 20,” Allen wrote. “EricPAC subsequently made a contribution with the understanding that those funds would be used only in the effort to support Congressman Kinzinger. Leader Cantor does not support the actions of this organization in any other election.”
But CPA is challenging that version of events. Appearing on CNN Friday evening, Leo Linbeck, a Houston construction magnate who is one of the super PAC’s primary funders, said he was not aware that Cantor’s donation had been earmarked specifically to target Manzullo.
“It’s news to me. I don’t know what their expectation was,” Linbeck said. “For us, it came in, it went to our super PAC, and we spent it on the activity that was underway.”
Linbeck also framed the Cantor donation in terms that are sure to roil the House Republican Conference.
“We are delighted that the House leadership of the GOP shares our vision of creating real competition for entrenched incumbents,” Linbeck said. “I mean, that’s so forward-thinking of them. This idea that committee chairs and House leadership ought to actually compete for the support of their district, we applaud their foresight.”
House GOP leadership aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they were perplexed by Cantor’s decision to donate to a group that was openly trying to take down sitting incumbents of his party.
“It’s just a mess,” said one leadership aide. “I don’t know how you wouldn’t weigh the pros and cons and decide this wasn’t the best move to make.”
“People are a little bit stunned,” said a senior House GOP aide. “It’s one thing for [Cantor] to endorse Kinzinger, or even to have the Young Guns [Action Fund] running ads for him. It’s a whole other level for Cantor to be giving to an organization that is trying to defeat all these Republicans. Very surprising.”
One Republican House aide told me in confidence that Cantor won't survive this and that there are already talks under way about who will be replacing him as Majority Leader (or, just as likely, Minority Leader). "All of his support has evaporated. The only defense he has is that he made a terrible misjudgment. But most of the committee chairs and senior members are beyond consoling now... Trust is gone. Permanently."
I also spoke to a contact in House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon's office who seems to think that this is Cantor trying to undermine Boehner. He gave me permission to publish an exact quote: "Congressman McKeon has been working tirelessly with Speaker Boehner to expand our Republican majority in the House and this behavior by Rep. Cantor is unconscionable and undermines our efforts. End of the day, this doesn't help anyone but Nancy Pelosi."