U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. – a former leader in the U.S House of Representatives – suggests that House Republican leaders move quickly to renew their focus on their issues. His advice comes in the wake of the unexpected defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in Tuesday’s primary.
“Whatever they decide to do for the remainder of this year, decide it quickly and move on,’’ said Blunt in a conference call Wednesday with Missouri reporters.
The Republican-led House’s chief objective should be, Blunt said, to “figure how to solve as many problems as we can and get ready for what I believe will probably be a bigger House majority for Republicans in the next Congress. No reason to be unclear about how this leadership is going to continue to work between now and the end of this year.”
Cantor had been expected to make a bid for House speaker next year, but he lost decisively in his Virginia primary to a college professor, David Brat. Some local tea party activists gave their support to Brat because they viewed Cantor as being too moderate on some issues, notably immigration.
Cantor's loss was the first by a House majority leader in a primary in more than 100 years. His defeat has touched off a political reshuffling in Washington similar to that generated by the 1994 defeat of the Democratic House majority leader, Tom Foley, in the general election.
This afternoon, Cantor is expected to announce that he resigning his position House majority leader as of July 31. House Republicans will have to retool their leadership team.
Blunt, Cantor worked together in House
Blunt knows Cantor well. When Blunt was the GOP whip in the House in the early 2000s, Cantor was his chief assistant.
Blunt avoided speculating why Cantor lost although he observed that Cantor’s campaign operation clearly was caught off-guard. Polls before the primary had showed the House leader with a comfortable lead in his district, which takes in Richmond, Virginia's capital.
“He’s a very capable person,’’ Blunt said of Cantor. The senator then alluded to problems that can create distance between House leaders and their local districts, regardless of party.
“One of the challenges of being a leader in the majority…is you have to try to find solutions with the members that have been sent there to work with you, which may not always be exactly the solutions apparently that the people in (Cantor’s) 7th District wanted to see.”
Blunt unsure about political message
Looking broadly at Tuesday’s primary results in several key states, Blunt added that he wasn’t sure “what the real message here is,’’ noting that U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., won his primary handily despite being a prime target of the tea party.
Blunt then emphasized that he supported the tea party bloc within the GOP. Tea party voters helped Blunt win election to the Senate in 2010.
“I continue to think that people who are newly engaged in the tea party movement because of their concern about a government not working the way it should be working, and government spending, is a helpful thing…and continues to be important to Republicans,’’ the senator said. “This is a good thing for our party to rally around these issues.”
Blunt advocated that Republicans emphasize their support for "a country that pays its bills, that helps create an environment where good take-home pay jobs are out there for people, where regulation and tax policy and other policies don't hold families back."
Overall, Blunt added, “The real message here is that we need to be doing everything we can to be sure that a maximum number of people are confident that things will change if Republicans win elections in November....At the end of the day, the country doesn't change based on primaries."