What Cantor Can’t Do for the Democrats

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The front page of today’s Washington Post brings the news that Democrats have decided to make House majority leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) “a political villain who will rile up their base and scare centrist swing voters to their side.” I can save the Democrats some time and money: This is not going to work.

The demonization of Newt Gingrich and, to a lesser extent, Ken Starr worked for Democrats from 1995 through 1999. But both figures had very high name recognition. The subsequent attempt to go after Tom DeLay didn’t really pay off, even with help from a Democratic district attorney in Texas and years of effort. Cantor is more like DeLay than like Gingrich or Starr: Most Americans don’t know who he is and have a hazy idea of what his job is.

And Cantor has given Democrats less to work with than DeLay has. DeLay could be caricatured as a thuggish (“the Hammer”), narrow-minded Christian conservative from Texas. Cantor is a fairly soft-spoken Jewish conservative from Virginia with no ethics complaints against him. There is no way he is going to drive swing votes in a presidential-election year.

The Democrats’ main charge against him is that he had stood in the way of tax increases and more stimulus. I don’t think that’s a fight Republicans are at all afraid of. That Democrats–including the president!–are going after Cantor is more evidence they’re flailing.