House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) chatted with National Review’s Robert Costa this week, and Costa complained that President Obama “doesn’t seem to socialize” with House Republicans. Cantor replied that he’d “just had drinks” with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough the other night, and then reflected on the bigger picture.
“The one thing I’ve always said – and I’ve said it to Rahm [Emanuel] and Jack Lew – is that this president has squandered an opportunity to use the office to do some good and actually get some things done. […]
“Either the president doesn’t like to engage with people, or it’s somehow beneath him to do so. I don’t know, and I told Denis that the president could benefit himself and the country a lot by developing those relationships and understanding where conservatives are, instead of just thinking that he knows where we are. But that has not been the case over the last four years of his tenure.”
Not surprisingly, there’s a quite a bit wrong with Cantor’s deeply strange perspective. First, Obama actually has gotten “some things done” – economic recovery, health care, auto industry rescue, counter-terrorism successes, Wall Street reform, civil rights breakthroughs, etc. – but the bulk of his successes came before Cantor became Majority Leader and his radicalized caucus brought the governing process to a halt.
Second, the president has done quite a bit of schmoozing, even with Republicans who hold him in contempt, refuse to compromise with him, call him a “socialist,” embrace bizarre conspiracy theories about him, and basically do everything imaginable to try to destroy his presidency. The outreach hasn’t produced much success.
And third, does Cantor seriously believe the paralysis in Washington would improve if Obama had a greater “understanding” of Cantor and his allies? As if there are such deep complexities to the caucus’ far-right ideology and nebulous agenda that they require deep presidential analysis to fully appreciate?
Indeed, Kevin Drum flagged a classic anecdote from 2011, when Cantor killed a “Grand Bargain” on debt reduction, not because he disagreed with it on substantive grounds, but because he didn’t want the president to achieve a pre-election victory on an issue Republicans sometimes pretend to care about.
Perhaps Obama’s “understanding” of Cantor’s worldview isn’t really the problem here.