Conservatives are increasingly targeting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, arguing that he has abandoned conservative principles and protesting his planned meeting with moderate and liberal Republicans.
Mr. Cantor, who just a few years ago was seen as a champion for conservatives in the House and a possible candidate to replace House Speaker John A. Boehner, now is viewed with suspicion, said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican.
“I think that Boehner can survive the discontent that the tea party and the more conservative element of the Republican Party has, but I don’t think that is true of Cantor,” Mr. Rohrabacher told The Washington Times. “Boehner is not considered someone who is an active adversary. Cantor can be seen — on immigration and a lot of other things — as someone who is very resentful of what would be the patriot Republican right.”
Mr. Rohrabacher took it a step further by saying that members of the caucus could move to knock Mr. Cantor from his leadership post in the next Congress, even if Mr. Boehner has the votes to stay.
“A lot of people are looking around for a replacement for Cantor,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “Eric is abrasive and is not as smooth at playing the political game as he needs to be to not be driven out of power.”
A Cantor aide brushed off some other conservative criticisms of his boss but declined to provide any comment on the record about Mr. Rohrabacher’s charge.
Not long ago, Mr. Cantor was seen as the heir apparent to Mr. Boehner, a conservative alternative to the Ohio Republican.
Last year, Mr. Boehner won 220 of the 232 Republican votes on his way to becoming House speaker. Mr. Cantor placed second among Republicans in the speaker vote, with the support of Reps. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Stevan Pearce of New Mexico and Ted S. Yoho of Florida.
On Wednesday, Mr. Yoho’s office did not respond to questions about whether he still supports Mr. Cantor, and spokesmen for Mr. Bridenstine and Mr. Pearce would not say whether their bosses plan to vote for him again.
Mr. Rohrabacher says he thinks Mr. Boehner may be forced to change any plans to step down at the end of his term once he realizes a transition to Mr. Cantor would not be easy.
Mr. Cantor, meanwhile, is coming under additional fire this week from L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of ForAmerica, who is calling on the Virginia Republican to turn down an invitation to attend a conference hosted by the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC, a group of moderate Republicans that regularly battles conservative groups in primary races.
“Aligning yourself with extreme opponents of the Republican Party would be an astonishing turn of events — with consequences,” Mr. Bozell said. “Mr. Leader: Don’t aid and abet sworn opponents of conservatives. If you do, it will cause irreparable damage.”
Mr. Boehner will not attend the event because of a scheduling conflict.
“If your position is that grassroots conservatives and Tea Party supporters no longer belong in the Republican Party then it will permanently destroy any credibility you have left with conservatives,” Mr. Bozell said. “Without conservatives, the GOP will also collapse.”
Mr. Bozell’s comments underscore the feud between some grass-roots groups and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill over spending and the national debt.
ForAmerica, which has made efforts to oust other Republican leaders in the House and Senate, also plans to ratchet up pressure on Mr. Cantor through a five-figure digital ad campaign in the run-up to the two-day Main Street event in Florida.
Mr. Cantor’s office said the Republican leader addresses various types of crowds across the nation with his conservative message in hopes of strengthening the party nationwide.
“This is judging a speaker by the audience,” the Cantor aide said. “When he speaks to an audience of moderate Republicans, it doesn’t mean he’s any less conservative; it means he is the Republican majority leader. We need to present our conservative solutions to all audiences, and grow our grass roots and our majority so we can stop President Obama’s liberal agenda and prevent [Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi from becoming speaker again.”
Sarah Chamberlain, executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC, said the charges leveled against her group are bogus.
Ms. Chamberlain said the PAC supports its members — 53 House and three Senate Republican lawmakers — from primary challengers from outside groups, including the Club for Growth.
“We have no beef with the actual tea party. It is the Club,” Ms. Chamberlain said. “We have never attacked a sitting member in a primary. We are just trying to defend them.”
Whatever the case, it is clear that some outside groups would be happy to see Mr. Cantor go.
“Conservatives have known for a while now that Eric Cantor is cut from the same cloth of Republicans who are beholden to the K Street interests and pushing amnesty, earmarks and corporate welfare,” said Drew Ryun, a political director of the Madison Project, which is backing insurgent candidates in Republican primaries.
“Replacing Boehner with Cantor is the equivalent of swapping out Obama for Biden — same failed policies, just a different person,” he said.