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Republicans move quickly to fill leadership vacuum left by ousted Cantor

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  June 12, 2014 at 9:13 AM EDT

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The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • McCarthy makes his move to replace Cantor in leadership
  • Cantor, a ‘victim of his own ambitions’
  • Cantor doesn’t likely change 2014, but 2016 is a different story
  • A warning about volatility in campaigns
  • New report on polarization – engaged left and right vs. Silent Majority

The race to replace Cantor: Well, that didn’t take long. Less than 24 hours after Eric Cantor learned that he had lost his re-election bid in a primary to a tea party-backed opponent, the Virginia congressman announced that he would be stepping down as House majority leader effective July 31. And his colleagues in the House are maneuvering quickly to fill the leadership holes he leaves behind. For his part, Cantor endorsed his friend, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the current majority whip, to replace him, saying “he’d make an outstanding majority leader.” McCarthy is the favorite, as his team was consolidating support Wednesday night ahead of what will be June 19 House GOP leadership elections. He is, however, facing competition from a pair of Texans — Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions. In the battle for whip, the No. 3 leadership post, it’s shaping up to be a fight between Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, the chief deputy whip and friend of McCarthy’s, against Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. The leadership fights are playing out to be a regional intra-party fight between Midwesterners and a Southern faction, which dominated leadership in the 1990s, frustrated and “long suspicious of a leadership team dominated by five lawmakers from states President Obama won twice,” the Washington Post writes.

Done in by his own ambition: The second-day consensus on what went wrong for Cantor was, as The New Republic’s Jason Zengerle writes, that Cantor was the “victim of his own ambitions.” Politico also calls it the “downside of ambition” as seniority has become “increasingly toxic since the rise of the tea party in 2010.” Zengerle counts the number of times Cantor has tried to rebrand himself at at least six — from establishment Republican lined up behind George W. Bush’s agenda and defender of ex-GOP House leader Tom DeLay, to a reformer speaking out against corruption, then becoming the face of the GOP opposition to President Obama’s agenda, then taking another turn as tea party champion in 2010 and 2011 before ditching the tea party somewhat after the 2012 reelection of Obama to try and rebrand the party on his own with more moderate tones. Zengerle concludes sharply, “Cantor was like a golden retriever who tried to run with a pack of coyotes. For a while, he was able to rely on their shared canine ancestry and fit in. But eventually, the coyotes recognized him for the domesticated creature he was. Then they ate him.” Dana Milbank sees irony in Cantor’s ambition taking him down and how quickly members of his own conference moved to replace him. “House Republicans dispatched Cantor on Wednesday with unseemly haste,” Milbank writes, adding, “If Cantor’s unbridled ambition was what brought him down, his colleagues weren’t getting the message.” There’s a reason why cliches get started about friends and dogs in Washington…

What the Cantor episode means for 2014, 2016: Before Democrats get too giddy about Cantor’s downfall, realize his loss does little to change the 2014 landscape. Republicans are still expected to retain control of the House — even Cantor’s seat is considered a safe Republican one — and make significant gains in the Senate. But 2016 is a different story and presents more warning signs for Republicans, especially on immigration, as we noted yesterday. The Hill’s Jessica Taylor writes, “For months, GOP strategists and pollsters have publicly and privately fretted that a failure to pass any form of immigration reform will complicate efforts to win the White House in 2016, when Hispanic voters will be a key to victory in several states. If Republicans have a successful 2014, they worry their base will enter the next election cycle with a false sense of hope that the party is well positioned to take back the White House after eights years of President Obama.”

A point about volatility: Right now is a volatile time in this midterm campaign, from the Cantor news to the Mississippi runoff to Iowa suddenly looking like it’s really in play for Republicans. It’s one of those moments in a campaign cycle when it’s important to take a step back and let the dust settle before drawing conclusions that are too broad, because when you see volatility — whether in campaigns or polling — it usually means you’re on the cusp of some change. And you shouldn’t let outliers dictate analysis. It should be a fun next few weeks and months.

Polarized America: A new survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center finds Republicans and Democrats are more divided along partisan lines and hold stronger contempt for the opposite party than at any point in the last two decades. The share of Americans who express consistently conservative or liberal views has more than doubled in that time, from 10 percent to 21 percent. The most polarized Americans are more likely to be politically active in terms of voting and donating to campaigns. Still, the majority of Americans do not align solely with the views of one political party, but they are less engaged. About 40 percent of people with a mix of liberal and conservative viewpoints say they always vote. By contrast, 78 percent of those with views that are consistently conservative always vote, compared to 58 percent of those whose views are consistently liberal. When it comes to solving the issues facing the country, a majority of Americans who do not hold uniformly partisan views prefer that President Obama and congressional Republicans each get about half of what they want. But majorities of consistent liberals and conservatives say the end result should end up in their favor. Call it the Silent Majority vs. Twitter America. Another trend highlighted in the poll is the growing antipathy between members of the two main political parties, with 38 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of Republicans now holding “very unfavorable” views of the opposite party. In 1994, 17 percent of Republicans and 16 percent of Democrats saw the opposing party in strongly unfavorable terms.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1987, President Reagan made his famous “tear down this wall!” speech, calling for Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall. Where was Reagan when he issued the challenge? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Rebecca Gannon ‏(@RebGan) for guessing Wednesday’s trivia: What was Gov. George Wallace’s protest against allowing blacks to register for classes at the University of Alabama called? The answer was: Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.

LINE ITEMS

  • President Obama will meet Thursday with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. They will be joined by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. Later, Mr. Obama will host the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx in a 1:50 p.m. ET ceremony at the White House.

  • At a fundraiser in Massachusetts Wednesday night, President Obama told donors, “My argument about yesterday’s election is not that there was too little politics, it’s that there was too little conviction about what’s right,” referring to the defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

  • Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel defended the Taliban prisoner exchange for Bowe Bergdahl at a House Armed Services hearing Wednesday, saying that if Congress had been alerted the deal might have fallen through.

  • Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, FBI director James Comey said his agency has opened a criminal investigation into allegations that the Department of Veterans Affairs toyed with waiting lists and delayed care for veterans.

  • A bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to allow the VA to work with private medical centers passed the Senate in a 93-to-3 vote Wednesday.

  • During a visit to San Francisco Wednesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry compared homosexuality to alcoholism.

  • A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the top elections official in Ohio to restore the final three days of in-person, early voting.

  • Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is replacing her campaign manager with state Rep. Chris Turner.

  • Money is pouring into governors races from the outside.

  • A group of GOP pollsters, hired to gauge support for immigration reform among Hispanics and the entire electorate, found that Republicans need to go ahead with immigration reform and they should not be wary of backlash at voting booths.

  • Five legal assistance groups are claiming that immigrant children who crossed the border unaccompanied were abused and mistreated by border officers while being held at detention centers.

  • Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to reduce minimum sentences for drug offenders, based on the amount they had on them at the time of the arrest.

  • Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Wednesday that Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana “is going to be one of the great social experiments of the 21st century.”

  • A preliminary report from the Office of Congressional Ethics describes accusations that two staffers for Texas GOP Rep. Steve Stockman donated to his campaign illegally, which Stockman’s office is accused of trying to cover up.

  • The Senate Conservatives Fund named former Virginia Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli as its new president Wednesday.

  • A lot can happen in a year. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appears on “The Tonight Show” Thursday night, a year after his last appearance with Jimmy Fallon.

  • The grandson of Cesar Chavez is suing the politician who decided to change his name to Cesar Chavez in order to run in a Democratic primary in Arizona.

  • Former President George H.W. Bush turns 90 on Thursday, with plans to celebrate his birthday in Maine by dining with 200 close family and friends.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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