Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eric Cantor's Nixon Act

When John Boehner pulled back from his Grand Bargain with the President last weekend, the cynical suspected that he and Eric Cantor were playing good cop-bad cop. But it’s clear now that Boehner was being undermined by his own sidekick.

Cantor is looking more and more like a young Richard Nixon. In 1952, when Nixon was on the GOP ticket with Ike before the Checkers speech, a Democratic volunteer asked, “What do we say when they ask exactly what’s wrong with him?”

Someone suggested, “The only answer to that is, if you don’t know, I’m sorry for you.”

From then until Watergate, Americans found answers to what the intuitive could see then in a recklessly ambitious young pol who would do anything to get ahead.

Now, as Cantor now embarrasses his boss John Boehner in the debt ceiling debate, that blind ambition is obvious again in another charisma-free climber with limited intelligence and no scruples.

There are always potential Nixons and Cantors around, but it takes a political crisis for them to emerge on the national stage. Nixon had the McCarthy era Communist scare to fuel his rise. Cantor has Tea Party anger and hatred of government.

After stalking out of the Biden talks to call attention to himself, the House Majority Leader, says one Washington observer, “has slipped into true madness” by now insisting that the GOP’s concession in negotiations is “the fact that we are even discussing voting for a debt ceiling increase.”

“Crazy like a fox” is closer to the truth, as Cantor positions himself to be the Tea Party hero no matter what compromise is finally reached, leaving Boehner to take the heat.

In 2008, Cantor’s staff spread false rumors that he was being vetted as a possible V.P., which the McCain people called “a complete and total joke.”

Nixon would have found that shrewd rather than funny.

Update: Cantor's gamble could easily backfire, as Matt Bai notes: "To the extent that Mr. Obama gets his message across more effectively, he hands Republicans the unenviable choice or either joining him in a comprehensive solution or looking self-interested for backing away and imperiling the economy.

"Does that mean voters won’t blame Mr. Obama for a crisis over the debt ceiling? It doesn’t. But they’ll probably blame Congress even more."

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