The ambitious majority leader represents a conservative wing of the GOP, and his future could depend on how the debt-limit talks proceed
The day of reckoning on the debt ceiling is coming, and for no one in Congress is it more portentous than for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. A political figure of unarguable talent and ambition, the Virginia Republican could one day pursue any number of jobs: speaker of the House, governor of his home state, U.S. senator. Some Republicans believe that Cantor fantasizes about being the nation's first Jewish president.
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Whatever his long-term goals, the next several weeks will go a long way toward deciding Cantor's future. The unifying thread in his debt-ceiling machinations the past four weeks has been to burnish his credentials as the leading free-market conservative in the House. To attain his political ambitions, Cantor must not let that newly forged impression become tarnished. And because Washington doesn't know and cannot see the debt-ceiling endgame, Cantor's ability to help Speaker John Boehner negotiate a deal that can pass the House and satisfy conservatives towers over his future.
When Boehner put Cantor in the budget talks with Vice President Joe Biden, his image on economic issues was solid but not sterling. When Cantor walked out of those talks because he opposed a White House push for tax increases, his stock rose among conservative activists. When he privately questioned (and in the mind of some House Republicans recklessly undermined) the $4 trillion deficit-reduction deal that Boehner had begun to negotiate with President Obama, his stock gained even more value among conservatives. After sparring with Obama during contentious budget negotiations, Cantor became a movement darling. He is the driving force behind House passage of its cut, cap, and balance bill that thrills conservatives. Without Cantor, hard-core conservatives believe that that measure would never have made it to the floor or become the centerpiece of GOP debt-ceiling orthodoxy.