If the immigration talk wasn't enough to rankle some of the conference's most conservative members, Cantor made more enemies by muscling a flood-insurance bill through the House earlier this year, over the objections of many Republicans, including Hensarling, whose Financial Services Committee has jurisdiction over the matter. (Some members saw Cantor's actions as deliberately intended to weaken Hensarling, who has emerged as the consensus choice of conservatives looking to vault one of their own into the uppermost echelons of leadership.)
Perhaps most egregiously, Cantor infuriated a sizable bloc of House Republicans in March by approving a maneuver that allowed a controversial Medicare-reimbursement bill to pass the House without a recorded roll-call vote. As members seethed over the alleged trickery, Cantor's office dismissed the visceral backlash, angering some members who were longtime supporters of the majority leader. Before that, the only rumblings of a leadership shakeup involved Boehner; soon after, however, members began suggesting that Cantor was no longer a shoo-in to succeed him as speaker.
"I'm getting used to being deceived by the Obama administration, but when my own leadership does it, it's just not acceptable," Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona said after the episode.
Another House Republican who is friendly with Cantor put it more bluntly: "If there's another vote like [that], Eric won't be speaker. Ever."
Still, Cantor hasn't exactly been a foil to tea-party Republicans in the House; to the contrary, some feel the majority leader is their strongest ally on the leadership team, and have endorsed his ascension to the speakership. Cantor has spent years carefully building relationships and delivering favors for members of his conference, knowing he would need their support if he were to become speaker.
But even the conservative members who like Cantor personally are celebrating tonight—not because he was their top target but because the majority leader embodies a leadership team they view as weak, reactive, risk-averse, and ideologically diluted.
After the House Republicans' first term in the majority was ruined by open internecine warfare, a dozen conservative malcontents tried—and failed—to oust Boehner at the dawn of this 113th Congress. The speaker responded by spending considerable time and energy last year restoring relations with the right wing of his conference, and as a result, 2013 was relatively harmonious for the House GOP. (Boehner even won a standing ovation when announcing the House GOP's surrender 16 days into the government shutdown.)
But the disillusionment was quickly rekindled in this second session. A large faction of House Republicans came into 2014 determined to produce a proactive agenda, and pleaded with leadership to address four areas in particular—health care, taxes, privacy, and welfare spending—so as to strike a sharp election-year contrast against Democrats. Boehner's team rejected that approach, opting instead to play it safe and avoid missteps that could cost Republicans a chance to win the Senate.