CAPITOL HILL: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor isn’t physically absent from here yet, but he is close to politically dead after last night’s stunning political defeat by a little known Tea Party supporter from the southern Virginia constituency.
I spoke to half a dozen close watchers of defense politics this morning and all but one of them — a particularly devout Republican — agreed that Cantor fell because he had lost touch with his constituents. This wasn’t about the Tea Party, most of them said, though several thought it may be an indicator of a coming right-wing shift in the November elections.
Most important to the defense community is what effect Cantor’s political neutering may mean to sequestration come its return in 2016. The GOP’s House Majority Leader was said to be a strong supporter of neutralizing the defense cuts required as part of the automatic budget reductions. I asked Rep. Mike Rogers, the somewhat brash chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, at a breakfast this morning how Cantor’s political murder would shape sequestration.
First he said he wasn’t sure, as he and his colleagues were “still shell shocked” from the fact of Cantor’s defeat. After a brief pause he wound back up and pointed to the Bipartisan Budget Act’s lifting of sequestration for two years, saying it got passed because HASC members “were not going to vote for a deal.” That block will remain united, he said. After the November elections the defense lawmakers will remain staunch in their opposition. “Whoever is majority leader, we are not going to go along with a deal for defense cuts,” he said.
Mackenzie Eaglen at the American Enterprise Institute (and member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors) was much less sanguine than Rogers. After noting that Cantor was the only member of the House leadership to get the classified briefing on sequestration’s effects on readiness and operations, Eaglen said she thinks Cantor’s defeat bodes ill for the defense enterprise. “What Rep. Cantor’s primary loss means more broadly will have significant strategic implications for defense policy and budgeting going forward. The internal firing squad tactic in the GOP only brings disjointed approaches to policy and funding, or worse, chaotic governance,” she said, clearly pointing to Congress’ inability to budget or plan or do much else for the last six years. And it may get worse, she went on.
“The odds are much higher now that the BCA and sequestration will remain in place in 2016 and 2017 as a result. If there is any softening of full sequestration in 2016, it will be a marginal and virtually meaningless amount (as in, not enough to have a significant impact on DoD that would be noticeable had it not been provided).
“Bottom line: a party divided is a party destined to remain in the minority at a national level for a very long time.” My translation: Republicans should not expect to win the next presidential election or to control both houses of the legislature.