Eric Cantor enters a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, Oct. 23, 2013.
Gabriella Demczuk/New York Times/Redux

Eric Cantor exits stage right

Two months after a shocking primary defeat, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) officially ended his tenure as House Majority Leader yesterday. He will not, however, remain on Capitol Hill as a rank-and-file member – the Virginia Republican announced overnight that he’s resigning his seat, effective August 18.
Cantor told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he will resign from Congress early to “make sure that the constituents in the 7th District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session.”
Cantor asked Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to call a special election in the district to coincide with the general election expected for November 4, according to the newspaper, allowing the winner to take office immediately rather than with the next Congress in January.
“That way he will also have seniority, and that will help the interests of my constituents,” Cantor added in his interview with the Times-Dispatch. Virginia is losing much of its congressional seniority this year, due to the resignations of Republican Rep. Frank Wolf and Democratic Rep. Jim Moran.
Cantor will be the 10th member of this Congress to resign before the end of the term, slightly less than the 11 members who resigned during the last Congress, but nevertheless a high total by modern standards. It’s not yet clear what the Virginia conservative will do next, though it’s widely assumed that Cantor will become a very high-paid lobbyist.
But as the former Majority Leader leaves Capitol Hill, it’s worth pausing to appreciate Cantor’s legacy, such as it is.
Let’s revisit our coverage from June, shortly after Cantor’s stunning primary defeat, when even The Onion was mocking the congressman: “Looking back on his 13-year tenure in the House of Representatives with reverence, resigning House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) reflected on the long list of accomplishments he had thwarted during his time in office.”
National Review’s Stephen Moore, however, defended his “personal friend,” describing him as the “Rodney Dangerfield of American politics” and “underappreciated.”
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…. No one on Capitol Hill is singularly more responsible for that remarkable improvement than Eric Cantor.
Moore’s piece added that Americans can “thank” Cantor “for the sequester,” which the National Review writer described as “the biggest conservative policy victory in a decade.”
And that’s it. That’s the list that Cantor’s “personal friend” and admirer came up with.
I still don’t see any point to kicking a guy when he’s down, especially as he’s leaving, but I continue to believe National Review’s list of Cantor’s successes nevertheless tell us something interesting about the right’s perspective. Look at Moore’s list again:
1. Cantor helped shrink the deficit. I suppose there’s some truth to that, though I find it fairly amusing that when most Republicans talk about the annual budget shortfall, they pretend it’s solely President Obama’s responsibility – except when it shrinks. But as a policy matter, what the economy needed was policymakers to focus on growth and job creation, not deficit reduction. In this sense, Moore praised Cantor for focusing on a problem that didn’t need solving, at least not at the time.
2. Cantor helped cut spending. This, too, is largely true, but these spending cuts, by every measure, helped undermine economic growth and weakened the recovery.
3. Cantor was responsible for the sequester. Yes, but the sequestration policy did real, measurable harm to the country. Indeed, Cantor himself condemned the sequester that his friend called “the biggest conservative policy victory in a decade.”
It’s quite a legacy, indeed.