The GOP Can't Win With Eric Cantor as Its Ambassador

Next came an exchange on immigration:

Ponnuru: Well, you mentioned immigration a fair amount in that answer. And I was just wondering whether you think the party's tone and position on those issues have contributed to the problems in the election and whether the immigration bill that's now passed the Senate is an opportunity to set things right?

Cantor: Well, you know, politics, like so many other things, just comes down to caring about people, right? And it is that old adage that says that people don't really care how much you know unless they know you care. And I do think that's a challenge for all elected officials right now. While Washington seems to be distracted with internal feuds, you know, matters that may not be relevant to most people in this country, we've gotta really take time to focus on that which may provide a little bit of hope for a lot of folks. Now, the immigration bill just passed the Senate, and contrary to a lot of the reports, we in the House really do want to make progress on this issue.

We are taking a much different approach than the Senate, and the way we are going about it is our judiciary committee and its chairman are addressing individual issues, one at a time. There have already been 5 bills we've seen marked up in committee, that will be sent to the floor. There was a bill that had to do with agricultural workers, guest workers who had to come to the country and have the ability to do so. A bill very relevant to some of the discussions here at Aspen about how do we encourage more skilled workers to be here, how do we finally get that staple the green card to the diploma rule into law, so that we don't see highly skilled foreign nationals with PhDs and masters degrees from our universities fleeing this country, taking their venture capital with them. And many other bills on employer enforcement, border enforcement, interior enforcement. And then we'll get to the very difficult issues that we've got to resolve. One of those I feel very passionately about and that's the kids. I hope strongly that the kids who were brought here as minors because their parents brought them, for no other reason, and they find themselves here in a country that says they don't belong. Certainly we should have the compassion to say, these kids shouldn't be kids without a country. And we ought to allow them the life that they desserve.

To me, that's a tone-deaf answer. I agree with Cantor that kids brought here illegally through no fault of their own ought to be treated with compassion -- kudos to him for taking the right position on that issue. But it's more difficult to use the issue to showcase the GOP's compassionate side when your frame is that there are these comparatively easy issues, like "employer enforcement, border enforcement, interior enforcement," that you're handling first, and then the "very difficult issues" that you'll get too, like kids brought here through no fault of their own, who've spent years without a country because of laws you agree to be uncompassionate. 

Lizza's profile quoted another high-profile Republican congressman on Cantor's performance as a leader:

"He's a fantastic Majority Leader," Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a close friend, said. "Eric keeps the trains running on time very efficiently." As Mitt Romney's former running mate and the architect of the budget policies that some Republicans blame for their loss in 2012, Ryan is well aware of his party's problems. "What Eric is really focused on is that we need to do a better job of broadening our appeal and showing that we have real ideas and solutions that make people's lives better," Ryan said. "Eric is the guy who studies the big vision and is doing the step-by-step, daily management of the process to get us there. That is a huge job."

That may well be true -- implementing a big vision and speaking about it frankly and persuasively in public are very different things. But based on Cantor's words, I can discern no big vision, nor any new ideas, nor any rhetoric with any hope of broadening the Republican Party's appeal. Said Lizza, "Cantor is frequently talked about as a future Speaker; he could even be a future President, some of his aides say." 

Take a look at the interview embedded above. Does anyone believe he could be a future president?

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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