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Eric Cantor defends Boehner, tells GOP to 'fight smartly'

Former Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor offered a measured defense of embattled House Speaker John Boehner in a New York Times op-ed.

Former Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor offered a measured defense of embattled House Speaker John Boehner — who will resign from Congress next month amid scathing criticisms from GOP lawmakers — arguing that the political infighting is damaging the party’s appeal.

Cantor, who served as second in command in the Republican-controlled House until an abrupt defeat in his primary election last year, blasted GOP leaders in a New York Times op-ed Friday. He accused them of wanting to "enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise” with Democrats.

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He affirmed that Boehner’s resignation was an opportunity for Republicans to “demonstrate to the American people that we are prepared to govern,” but was impeded by the “lack of will” on the party's part.

“As a result we missed chances to achieve important policies for the good of the country,” he wrote, adding that conservatives “have not been honest about what can be accomplished when your party controls Congress, but not the White House.”

Cantor said that, while he agrees with the establishment that Republicans must fight “for what we believe in,” they “should fight smartly."

Boehner, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, insisted that he was not forced to resign. He said he'd planned to leave Congress at the end of 2014, but returned because of Cantor’s unforeseen electoral defeat. The speaker was going to delay his resignation until the end of the year, but abruptly decided on Friday morning that he would make the announcement the same day.

“It's been an honor to serve this institution," Boehner said, noting emotionally that he would “certainly miss my colleagues. [This] isn’t about me. It's about the people. It’s become clear to me that the prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.” 

Boehner’s abrupt announcement on Friday to step down came as lawmakers are struggling to avert a government shutdown next week. Some GOP lawmakers and Republican presidential hopefuls, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, had slammed the speaker for failing to fight the Obama administration on conservative issues integral to the GOP.

RELATED: House Speaker Boehner on his resignation: ‘This isn’t about me’

Boehner took the helm of the House in 2011 and has recently been under intense pressure to present legislation that would fund the government, avoiding a shutdown on Oct. 1, while also slashing federal funds from Planned Parenthood. President Barack Obama has repeatedly vowed to veto any bill to defund the group, a move that could potentially trigger next week’s shutdown.

Cruz welcomed Boehner's resignation at the Values Voter Summit, telling its attendees "You want to know how much each of you terrify Washington? Yesterday, John Boehner was speaker of the House. Y'all come to town and somehow that changes. My only request is, 'Can you come more often?'”

When Republican senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio made the announcement at the conservative gathering, the crowd responded with a standing ovation.

“I’m not here to bash anyone, but the time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership in this country,” he said.  “And that extends to the White House.”