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The Underappreciated Eric Cantor
You can thank him for the sequester, the biggest conservative policy victory in a decade.

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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Stephen Moore

Eric Cantor must have woken up this morning feeling like the Rodney Dangerfield of American politics: I get no respect.

In the aftermath of his stunning loss, Mr. Cantor has been attacked from all sides by political Monday-morning quarterbacks — for supposed arrogance, for ignoring his constituents, for being too moderate, too pro-business, not free-market enough, weak on the border issues, and so on.

There is probably an element of truth to each of these criticisms, but now that it is fashionable to treat Mr. Cantor as the piñata for everything that is wrong in Washington, I’d like to take a moment to do something no one else has done: Defend him.

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First, for those friends on the right who say that Eric Cantor is a sellout or insufficiently conservative, his track record speaks for itself. When he became majority leader of the House, the budget deficit was $1.4 trillion, and potentially headed to $2 trillion as the Left called for more “stimulus.” It was the House Republicans who brought that spending and borrowing binge to a screeching halt. The deficit is now $400 billion, a $1 trillion improvement.

Federal spending has fallen over the three years Mr. Cantor has been the House leader. That’s the first time it’s dropped since the 1950s.

Here’s the point: No one on Capitol Hill is singularly more responsible for that remarkable improvement than Eric Cantor. Sure, we need far more spending cuts, but it was Mr. Cantor who was the lead negotiator for the Republicans and went face-to-face in those fierce negotiations with Barack Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid. He also was a key leadership voice in repelling major tax hikes sought by Obama.

Those who doubt this history should read Bob Woodward’s book on the day-to-day fiscal negotiations. Mr. Cantor refused to budge even when some in his own party — including Speaker John Boehner — were willing to take tax hikes as part of a grand budget package.

To liberals, Mr. Cantor was the villain. To conservatives, in those dark months when the nation was about to drive off a debt cliff, Mr. Cantor shone. These are just facts.

The 2011 budget deal, with budget caps and spending cuts, was the great conservative victory of the last decade — with the most liberal president since Woodrow Wilson — and Mr. Cantor has never received the gratitude from conservatives he deserves. He could have sold out to the Left’s demands for a tax hike to seal the “grand bargain,” and lesser men would have buckled under to the pressure. Most would have relished the praise that was sure to come from the New York Times and CBS for being a “statesman.” (Who knows, he might have even won a Profiles in Courage award from Caroline Kennedy.)



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