Wednesday, August 6, 2008

House Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, is reportedly on John McCain‘s short list for vice president. Mr. Cantor, 45, would bring a number of strengths to the Republican ticket. If Mr. McCain were to select Mr. Cantor, who has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 97 percent, it would send a clear message to the conservative Republican base that has had a difficult, uneasy relationship with Mr. McCain. It also would do so without alienating non-conservatives who might be inclined to support the nominee.

There are any number of objections that can be raised to a Cantor candidacy. No Jew has served as president or vice president (although Sen. Joe Lieberman was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee eight years ago). While the United States has come a long way in improving ethnic and race relations in recent decades, it is unquestionably true that religious bigotry exists and must be factored in. Mr. Cantor was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1991 and to Congress nine years later representing a Richmond-area district. As the only Jewish Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Mr. Cantor “is a natural nexus between the party’s Christian conservatives and traditionally Democratic Jewish campaign donors that they court with their hawkish support for Israel. Despite his short congressional tenure, Cantor ranks among the top beneficiaries of pro-Israel campaign dollars and is a spokesman for the party on Israel,” according to Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America.

Mr. Cantor, who served as chairman of a congressional task force on terrorism, has been an outspoken advocate of a tough U.S. stance against Iran’s nuclear weapons program and Syrian support of terrorism. Early last year, when it appeared that a significant number of Republicans might vote for a Democratic-pushed war funding bill that included a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Mr. Cantor worked to keep Republican lawmakers united against it, and largely succeeded - in the end, only two of them voted for the legislation. And Mr. Cantor has been a stalwart supporter of building a U.S. national missile defense. In sum, when it comes to defense and foreign policy, Mr. Cantor’s views are very much in sync with those of Mr. McCain.

Mr. McCain and Mr. Cantor agree on many other issues. Both have compiled pro-life voting records. Both have opposed pork-barrel spending schemes, including this year’s farm bill, They are strong supporters of President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts (which Mr. McCain previously opposed). Mr. McCain also supports expanded offshore oil drilling, but remains opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

An important benefit of putting Mr. Cantor on the ticket is that he would help alleviate concerns about Mr. McCain’s weaknesses. For example, Mr. McCain repeatedly made statements admitting his need to improve his economic knowledge. Mr. Cantor would help alleviate voter concerns on this issue. A member of the House Ways and Means Committee, the fifth-term Republican has focused a considerable amount of his legislative work on economic matters. Two years ago, he introduced a bill to create tax incentives for premium payments and contributions to high-deductible health savings accounts. Mr. Cantor was also the lead sponsor of legislation making permanent the reduction in the federal tax on dividend income to 15 percent.

A Cantor selection could help reassure conservative Republicans who have disagreed with Mr. McCain on some important issues. For example, on illegal immigration, Mr. Cantor has consistently opposed legislation pushed by Mr. McCain that would provide amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. Mr. Cantor is opposed to climate-change legislation pushed by Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman that would impose draconian, job-killing regulations on the private sector and he opposed the McCain-Feingold restrictions on political free speech. Of course, as president, Mr. McCain would have the final say on all of these issues. But Cantor supporters say that putting him on the ticket would ensure that conservatives have a place at the highest levels of a McCain administration. It should also be noted that putting Mr. Cantor on the ticket might help Mr. McCain fight for votes in Virginia, now a “purple” state.

To be certain, there are any number of objections that can be raised to a Cantor candidacy, and there will doubtless be objections that Mr. Cantor, as a conservative, might alienate centrists that Mr. McCain needs to “reach out” to. On the other hand, giving the back of the hand to conservatives would guarantee that a good number of McCain voters stay home on election day.

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