In a key policy address on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) attempted what critics deem nearly impossible—taking the “stupid” out of the Republican Party.
In a speech given at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Cantor outlined the GOP’s position on the role of government in immigration reform, school choice, college affordability, and Medicare/Medicaid reform. Cantor’s aim is to recast the Republican image in a more positive, and softer, light.
The House leader took his cue, in part, from controversial comments made last month by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who said the GOP’s stance on certain policy issues made it the “stupid party.”
However, Cantor made it clear the party would maintain its dogmatic position on slashing deficits and fighting tax increases.
"There is no substitute for getting our fiscal house in order. … But I'd like to focus our attention on what lies beyond these fiscal debates," Cantor said from a podium emblazoned with the twitter hashtag #MakingLifeWork.
Cantor said GOP leaders are advocating a course to appeal more to women, minorities and young people—voting blocs that have gone overwhelmingly for the Democratic party in recent elections.
“Over the next two years, the House Majority will pursue an agenda based on a shared vision of creating the conditions for health, happiness, and prosperity for more Americans and their families,” he said. “And to restrain Washington from interfering in those pursuits.”
Cantor focused on American’s opportunity to expand. The best way to restore people’s hope for the future is to make opportunity a reality, he said. Opportunity comes with a growing economy, business expansion and start-ups that create jobs.
Cantor emphasized a need for education reform through programs like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, which allow funding to follow children, rather than school buildings—empowering parents instead of bureaucrats. Education reform will be one of the party’s top priorities, fixing the system for the most vulnerable, he said.
In a move sure to be unpopular with some Republicans, Cantor also endorsed the Dream Act, which would give legal residence and citizenship for illegal immigrants brought here as children. He praised the bipartisan work on a bill including border security, employment verification and guest worker programs.
In the realm of healthcare reform, Cantor advocated expanding medical research and producing cures to reduce the upward pressure of healthcare costs—an idea mainstream media outlets have largely ignored.
“Long term, controlling health care costs will require smarter federal investments in medical research,” he said. “Many of today’s cures and life-saving treatments are a result of an initial federal investment. And much of it is spent on cancer research and other grave illnesses.”
The Hill reported the seven-term lawmaker began planning his speech, which comes three months after Mitt Romney’s defeat in the presidential election, in December. He convened members of his staff to focus on issues that reflect GOP values, outside the usual budget cuts rhetoric.
Former House leadership aide John Feehery said the timing for Cantor’s speech was perfect.
“From a Republican standpoint, GOP leaders were really letting Romney kind of define policies for the Republicans, and Romney lost,” Feehery told The Hill. “Now, they need other leaders to step up.”
Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner pointed out a certain theatricality to Cantor’s speech. But he compared it to the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which included both showmanship and substance.
“It's not clear how successful the House Republicans' outside game will be,” Barone said. “But for those on their side, it's encouraging that they're trying to play.”