Major Cantor speech seeks to recast image of GOP and conservatism

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor hopes to put a kinder face on Republican policies in a major policy address on Tuesday. 

After maintaining a relatively low profile since the November elections, the Virginia Republican will reassert himself on the national stage with a highly anticipated speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

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According to excerpts obtained by The Hill, Cantor will attempt to recast the GOP position on the role of government.

“Government policy should aim to strike a balance between what is needed to advance the next generation, what we can afford, what is a federal responsibility and what is necessary to ensure our children are safe, healthy and able to reach their dreams,” the GOP leader will say. 

Immigration reform for highly skilled labor, school choice, college affordability and Medicare/Medicaid reform will be among the issues that Cantor will tackle. 



“We will advance proposals aimed at producing results in areas like education, healthcare, innovation, and job growth. Our solutions will be based on the conservative principles of self reliance, faith in the individual, trust in the family, and accountability in government,” Cantor is set to say. 


He will discuss matters directly related to working families and inject his experience as a father of three.

“Lately, it has become all too common in our country to hear parents fear whether their children will indeed have it better than they.  And for all of us parents, that is a scary thought. Our goal should be to eliminate the doubt gripping our nation’s families, and to restore their hope and confidence in being able to protect tomorrow for their children,” the majority leader plans to say. 

Cantor plans to say Republicans will strive “to ensure every American has a fair shot at earning their success and achieving their dreams.” 

Interestingly, Obama used similar language in a 2011 speech in Kansas. Channeling Teddy Roosevelt, Obama called for all Americans to have a “fair shot.” Obama said at the time, “These aren’t Democratic values or Republican values … they’re American values, and we have to reclaim them.”

Cantor’s address comes after other top-ranking GOP officials, including Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), have recently given major addresses on how to repair the Republican brand.

Having served in the leadership ranks as part of the House minority and the majority, Cantor has seen his party go through many highs and lows. But his AEI speech is different than other media appearances he has given over the years. It is geared at pushing his party in a variety of ways, most notably to urge his GOP colleagues to embrace conservative principles while looking out for the little guy. 

Cantor has long bristled as being cast by Democrats as “Mr. No” for uniting his party in opposition of several big-ticket agenda items during President Obama’s first years in the White House. 

But over the last year, Cantor successfully moved bipartisan legislation including the JOBS Act, the STOCK Act and Export/Import Bank measures to the president’s desk to be signed into law. 

The policies that he will discuss have the potential to gather bipartisan support, according to former House leadership aide John Feehery. 

“All of these are issues are not just pie in the sky. They can unite Republicans if done the right way and pick up some Democrats,” said Feehery, who is also a columnist for The Hill.

Sources close to Cantor said the seven-term lawmaker began planning his speech in December. He convened members of his staff to focus on issues that reflect GOP values, beyond the tax-and-spend rhetoric. 

Cantor’s address comes three months after Mitt Romney’s defeat in the 2012 presidential race.

“From a Republican standpoint, [GOP leaders] were really letting Romney kind of define policies for the Republicans, and Romney lost. Now, they need other leaders to step up,” Feehery explained. 

Feehery said that the timing of Cantor’s speech could not be better: “This is the perfect time to make this kind of speech where he will try to set the agenda for the next few years.”

While skeptics might believe Cantor is using the speech to shore up political support, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he is exhibiting leadership.

Cole told The Hill that “you need some people with positive visions and alternatives to put forward. I think that’s what the majority leader is trying to do, so I see this as a service to the entire conference — not self-promotion at all. It’s really something we need Republican leaders doing.” 

Cantor has the support of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). On Monday afternoon, the Speaker’s press office forwarded the announcement of the address to media outlets. Cantor has shared his speech with other Republican leaders, including committee chairmen.