At this moment Washington collective wisdom points to House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio as the next speaker of the House if the Republicans win control of the House of Representatives, as expected, on November 2.
Collective wisdom is often wrong. For politics by its very nature is unpredictable — just ask Scott Brown, the Republican senator from Massachusetts, now sitting in the “Kennedy seat.”
Washington wisdom regarding “Speaker” Boehner could be challenged if the Republican House victory is perceived as an overwhelming victory for the young conservative movement led by the self-titled “Young Guns,” comprised of Eric Cantor (the leader), Paul Ryan (the thinker), and Kevin McCarthy (the strategist).
Their book/manifesto titled Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders is aptly named. Pajamas Media CEO Roger L. Simon dubbed Young Guns “The Conservative 2.0 Campaign Book” back in mid-September, which was also when it grabbed such headlines as the Washington Post’s “With new book, Cantor disavows power grab.”
So will Boehner’s number-two man, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, force Boehner to a duel for speaker of the House?
Not likely, but not totally out of the realm of possibility either. For conservative leaders outside of Congress are less than wildly enthusiastic about “Speaker” Boehner and offer lukewarm support.
Cantor is on record as saying he will support Boehner as speaker, but if his young conservative revolution has some really strong tailwinds coming off November 2, all bets are off.
According to the same Washington Post piece, “Of course this Boehner-Cantor alliance could fray if the Republicans win.”
The question is: by how many seats will the Republicans take the House and do larger numbers of freshmen benefit Cantor or Boehner?
The possibility surely exists for a duel if a newly enlarged posse of “gun-toting” young’uns feels Eric Cantor best represents who they are, what they campaigned on, and what they hope to accomplish in Congress.
Keep in mind that the back cover of Young Guns says: “Together the Young Guns are changing the face of the Republican Party … .” Of course that face could be Boehner’s.
Meanwhile, Cantor, Ryan, and McCarthy have been busy crisscrossing the country campaigning for more “young gun” congressional candidates with the intent of storming Capitol Hill, raising the flag of a new young conservative revolution, then getting to work charting a course of limited government, free markets, fiscal responsibility, and a rebranding of the Republican Party.
(Although notice how seldom the word “Republican” is used to describe this group.)
Take the hot-button issue of earmarks, for example. Last week Eric Cantor fired off what could be perceived as a mild shot at Boehner, by advocating an outright end to earmarks — stronger language then Boehner’s oddly worded recent commitment to end earmarks “as we know them.”
It’s probably all high-stakes semantics, but it might also be Eric Cantor further positioning himself as the ultimate fiscal hawk to all the newly elected members who might want to be more closely identified with him over Boehner.
However, it has been widely reported that Boehner provides “adult leadership” and “scoffs at suggestions” that the “Young Guns” might undermine his leadership. “They are some of our brightest, most energetic members,” he said in a telephone interview between campaign stops for House candidates in the Dakotas as reported in a very fair and balanced Huffington Post piece (“John Boehner: Speaker-in-Waiting?“).
Boehner was first elected to Congress in 1990. He was elected majority leader in February 2006 and presided over the terrible House losses of 2006 and 2008.
Now he is fighting his way back into the majority and must be savoring his new status as Obama’s “villain du jour.”
Here is a classic New York Times hit piece on Boehner voicing some of the arguments that make even Republicans question whether Boehner is the right face and image to lead the party at this juncture.
Even though Boehner scoffs at the Young Guns undermining his leadership, it can’t have escaped his attention that those “brightest and most energetic members” neglected to mention him in their book except for three minor passing references. (Speaker Nancy Pelosi is mentioned over 20 times.)
But more telling are the acknowledgments at the back of Young Guns. Cantor, Ryan, and McCarthy do not thank Leader John Boehner for anything.
Was this omission of John Boehner from their leadership vision an accidental oversight, or a Washington-style smoke signal setting the stage for a showdown?
With that thought in mind, the forward of Young Guns, written by Fred Barnes of the the Weekly Standard and Fox News, is especially intriguing and important.
Barnes wrote in April 2010: “I’m convinced Eric Cantor will be speaker or majority leader the next time Republicans control the House.”
Why is what Fred Barnes wrote so important?
For that answer, believe it or not, you have to go back to an Alaskan cruise in June 2007.
On that cruise Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol had lunch with Governor Sarah Palin and Barnes noticed she had “real star quality,” as reported in this October 2008 New Yorker article. The piece chronicles how Barnes and Kristol were enamored with Sarah Palin and then, through their influence at Fox News and the Weekly Standard, started enough media momentum that when McCain selected then-unknown Palin as his 2008 surprise running mate, Barnes and Kristol were credited as major behind-the-scenes players.
So is Fred Barnes aiming to do for Eric Cantor what he did for Sarah Palin?
Maybe, because for Barnes to even write that Cantor could be the next speaker of the House when Republicans take control signals he might be willing to play an active role in promoting the idea of “Speaker” Cantor to the conservative audiences of Fox News and the Weekly Standard.
Just a little palace intrigue you might want to watch after November 2.
There would be another interesting story if Eric Cantor were to be elected speaker, for he would make history as our nation’s first Jewish speaker of the House.
For Republicans, that opens up the potential of a vast shift in what is currently the nation’s second most loyal Democratic voting bloc. (Obama got 77% of the Jewish vote in 2008.)
Even if the first Jewish Republican speaker of the House could help nudge Jewish voters over to the R column by a few percentage points in some key states, it could make the difference in a close 2012 presidential election
At a minimum, Cantor from his perch as speaker could help rebrand the Republican Party by possibly making it more attractive to Jewish voters in the future and then redirect millions of dollars in financial support that Jewish Democrats contribute to their party and its candidates.
Will Eric Cantor and the “Young Guns” blow away presumed “Speaker” Boehner if the GOP takes control? Probably not, but watch closely how the media spins a Republican victory on November 2. If you start hearing more about Eric Cantor and his newly expanded posse, then listen carefully, for the sound you might hear next could be the Young Guns taking a shot at the speaker’s gavel.