Eric Cantor returns as a political force

By David M. Drucker
Washington Examiner
February 26, 2015

Eric Cantor is back.

After transitioning from the elaborate lifestyle of security details and ornate Capitol Hill offices afforded
senior congressional leaders to the comparatively drab, corporate existence of an investment banker,
Cantor is re­emerging as a Republican political power player.

The one­ time presumed successor to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) might have lost some of
the luster with insurgent conservatives that rocketed him into House leadership relatively early in his
14 ­year congressional career. But Cantor remains a force, influential in Establishment political and
“Reformicon” policy circles. His fans range from American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, to the
top Republican presidential contenders, to Tea Party darlings like Tim Scott.

“He’s a brilliant man with an understanding of the political process and the policies — he’s really good
at them,” Scott, the South Carolina senator, told the Washington Examiner. “He brings with him a
wealth of knowledge that very few people have in this town.”

Cantor, 51, only ended up here because Republicans in his Richmond­ area congressional district
rejected him. Almost nine months ago, Cantor became the first sitting House majority leader since the
leadership post was created to lose in a GOP primary when he was ousted by a conservative, anti-Establishment
challenger, now ­Rep. Dave Brat.

But in an interview Wednesday in the just ­opened Washington office of boutique investment banking
firm Moelis & Company, where Cantor serves as vice chairman, the former congressman appeared
remarkably at peace with that chapter of his professional life, and excited about his private sector
career as an entrepreneurial financier. Also unmistakable was a desire to get back into the game.

Cantor exuded particular enthusiasm about Republican politics and helping the GOP in 2016, as if
liberated from having to constrict his agenda to the whims a couple hundred other Republicans and
the constituents they represent. Cantor is free to advise his favorite presidential candidates (Jeb
Bush; Chris Christie; Marco Rubio and Scott Walker), which he does regularly, and available to invest
his prolific fundraising skills and lucrative Rolodex in whomever he chooses.

Cantor did not rule out endorsing a candidate in the 2016 primary, although he said it’s still early, nor
did he shy away from throwing a few elbows at President Obama. He’s hopeful that the eventual
Republican nominee will adopt policies that address wage stagnation, promote school choice and
attack the rising cost of education as well as other middle class concerns that animated him while in
Congress, and in fact, still do.

“Clearly I still care about the direction of this country; I care about the conservative cause; I care
about the Republican Party,” Cantor said. “We need a leader of the party, and for the country, that
can say … to everyone — whatever your background — to say: ‘I believe in America, I’m confident in
our future I am not interested in dividing out country.’”

Cantor might have fallen out of favor with the conservative grassroots and the talk radio set. But in
interviews, several D.C. Republican operatives and New York GOP donors said the Virginian still has
political muscle that is valuable to the party generally and would be a boon to any Republican
presidential candidate, especially a sitting or former governor who has never worked in Washington.
The Tuesday evening soiree to celebrate the opening of Moelis’ Washington office drew the top five
elected House Republican leaders; House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R­-MI);
Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairman of the House select committee investigating the Sept.
11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya; Scott and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO),
among other notables.

Over six years as a House GOP leader, including two as minority whip and four as majority leader,
Cantor raised approximately $200 million, according to figures provided by his political advisors. He
assiduously cultivated and maintained the support of financial industry political donors. But Cantor’s
fundraising prowess wasn’t limited to Wall Street.

“He can reach out to Jewish donors who have given to Republicans because of Eric,” said a
Washington­based GOP contributor in Cantor’s network with strong New York ties.

He used his position as a prominent Jewish Republican, and eventually the highest ranking elected
Jewish Republican in America, to cull contributions from traditionally Democratic donors and others
who hadn’t previously given to the GOP. Cantor donors told the Examiner that the former
congressman still commands the support of contributor network, positioning him as among the most
valuable potential GOP bundlers of the 2016 campaign.

However, Cantor’s policy expertise and nuts­and­bolts familiarity with government could be among his
most valuable assets, say Republican insiders.

Cantor continues to travel internationally as part of his duty as a vice chairman for Moelis, a publicly
traded U.S. firm but one with an international presence and overseas offices. This month, Cantor
made multiple stops in Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Dubai, helping him stay in touch with
foreign business and government leaders and satiate his longstanding interest and focus on foreign
policy and the role of the U.S. as a global leader.

Cantor could also bring to a campaign, or a Republican administration, a deep experience with the
sausage­making of producing legislation. He knows many Republican members of Congress
personally, having developed relationships as a part of helping elect them and leading them on the
Hill. And he understands the complicated politics of the Capitol, which can be so much different than
the politics of winning elections.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the next Republican administration, he wasn’t tapped for secretary of
state or chief of staff,” said Michael Herson, a Republican operative and president of American
Defense International

Leave a Comment