Eric Cantor, you’ve just lost your bid for an eighth term in Congress. What are you going to do next?
Though he might wish he was in a magical land — especially one where powerful incumbents never lose to no-name primary challengers — Disney World likely isn’t on Cantor’s docket come January.
The House majority leader whose primary loss last week to an unknown political novice stunned just about everyone in and outside the Beltway — including both candidates — will be out of a job next year. Cantor has ruled out a Murkowski-like write-in campaign to try to hold onto his seat, and because of Virginia’s “sore loser” law he can’t get on the ballot as a third-party candidate, even if he wanted to. So his departure from Congress in January is assured.
He will be replaced by either Dave Brat, who beat Cantor in last week’s Republican primary for Virginia’s 7th House district seat, or Democrat Jack Trammell, who secured his party’s nomination on June 8. The two face off in November’s general election.
Cantor’s next move is less clear. Chances are, though, he won’t remain unemployed for long. In announcing the day after his primary loss that he would step down as majority leader on July 31, and again in interviews later in the week, Cantor made clear he intends to stay in the game on some level.
“I really am very focused on continuing on the mission that I’ve tried to be about here in Washington,” Cantor told CNN’s State of the Union in an interview Sunday. “It’s those reform-conservative solutions that actually can be applied to people’s problems in the working middle class of this country, the poor, and for everyone.”
Among his many options, Cantor could mold those conservative solutions as a high-profile player at any number of think tanks in Washington. Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) did just that last year, leaving the Senate to take the reins at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“Given his profile as a soon-to-be-former House majority leader, he’ll be an attractive choice for some big-time interest groups and think tanks to pursue,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and associate editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
In addition to DeMint, Cantor could take his cue from another Republican, one who, like the congressman, suffered a recent political setback.
“Take Ken Cuccinelli,” Skelley said, referring to the 2013 Republican nominee for Virginia governor. “It just came out [last week] that he’s the new president of the Senate Conservatives Fund.”
And, Skelley said, Cantor has a lot more political cache than Cuccinelli, the commonwealth’s former attorney general.
“Cantor has oodles more insider cred,” he explained. “So it’s a good bet that [he will] have his choice of a large plate of post-congressional options.”
Conservative Washington isn’t the only place Cantor has pull. As the House Republican caucus’s only Jewish member, Cantor has played a pivotal role in the party’s relationship with the Jewish and Israeli communities, a role that’s made him a key ally with Jewish organizations and leaders.
“Eric has been an important pro-Israel voice in the House and a leader on security issues,” Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in a statement. “We deeply appreciate his efforts to keep our country secure and to support our allies around the world.”
So his ties to the Jewish community naturally bring to mind the question: Might he work for an organization dedicated to Jewish causes or closer U.S.-Israeli ties?
Cantor mentioned his faith at the outset of his press conference last week. But his comments came not in any policy context, and he gave no hint that he’s thinking along those lines.
“Growing up in the Jewish faith, I went to Hebrew school and read a lot in the Old Testament about individual setbacks,” he said in prefacing his comments about his unexpected defeat the night before. “But you also read and you learn that each setback is an opportunity.”
Skelley says Cantor would be a natural fit working for a group “that focus[es] on issues related to Israel and Judaism,” such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or the RJC.
Cantor has plenty of other options, of course. He could land on the K Street lobbying circuit, a trade plied by many of his former aides and staffers, not to mention dozens of former legislators. But sources close to the congressman say that’s not likely, at least not right away.
In fact, Cantor himself said earlier this week that a lobbying position was almost certainly not in the cards.
“I don’t think that I want to be a lobbyist,” Cantor said bluntly on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “But I do want to play a role in in the public debate.”
A more likely near-term option, analysts and capital insiders say, is a move north to New York and Wall Street, where he has a long list of contacts and political allies.
Cantor would have no problem signing on to one of the major investment banks or securities firms in the Big Apple. After all, some of the biggest contributors to Cantor’s campaign and political action committee over the last three years are top-shelf names in the world of financial services, including Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, the Blackstone Group and Scoggin Capital Management. From there, he would wield enormous influence by shepherding political contributions to Republican candidates who share his views.
Looking further ahead, Skelley says he wouldn’t bet against a political comeback in Cantor’s future.
“It’s not inconceivable that he could run for statewide office — senator or governor — at some point down the road, perhaps after a few years away to lick his wounds and rebuild support among elements of the party that he apparently lost touch with,” Skelley said. “There have been a few unexpected political comebacks in history — just take Richard Nixon, for example — so it would be foolish to write [him] off, especially given his relative political youth.”
The congressman likely hasn’t made up his mind yet on his post-congressional move — his loss is just a week old, after all, and he has plenty of time before he leaves office. But one thing is certain: Washington, and the nation, hasn’t heard the last of him.
“I want to … look toward the future so I can continue to promote and be a champion for the conservative cause,” he told CNN. “We are going to have a time when we actually have to solve problems and stop the kind of lurch leftward that we’re seeing. I believe we are getting ready for that.”
(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)