Sen. Harry Reid uncorked a harsh attack on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., last week that suggests Democrats are embarking on a new strategy to resolve the debt ceiling standoff: isolating Cantor as the new public face of GOP intransigence.
“Even Speaker (John) Boehner and Minority Leader (Mitch) McConnell seem to understand the seriousness of the situation. They are willing to negotiate in good faith,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has shown he shouldn’t be at the table, and Republicans agree. . . . One Republican told Politico last night, ‘he lost a lot of credibility when he walked away from the table. It was childish.’”
Accounts of Wednesday’s debt talks vary, but all agree that Cantor played a lead role in telling President Barack Obama that revenue increases simply aren’t going to happen — and that Obama didn’t react kindly.
Democrats seem to be seizing on this episode to isolate Cantor — who by many accounts is more adamantly opposed to revenue increases than even Boehner — as the primary obstacle to compromise.
That’s why Reid singled out Boehner and McConnell as operating “in good faith,” implying Cantor is not, while drawing attention to grousing among (unnamed) Republicans that Cantor is damaging the GOP’s credibility and cause.
One account had it that Obama himself privately told Cantor that he seems to be looking for ways to scuttle the possibility of compromise. And the Democratic message Thursday morning was all about painting Boehner and McConnell as the unlikely new faces of GOP reasonableness.
But will divide and conquer work? Cantor sought for himself the role of the GOP’s leading anti-tax warrior. If his intransigence on revenue earns him high-profile criticism from Democrats, he will only become more of an anti-tax hero in some circles.
Yes, Cantor has been hammered relentlessly by Beltway commentators for his refusal to budge. Yes, other GOP leaders want a route out of this mess. But will the increased pressure on Cantor really force him to change course?
Greg Sargent blogs on domestic politics for The Washington Post: washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line.