Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- The depleted House Republican caucus, a minority in the next Congress, convenes at 8 a.m. in the Capitol Friday on the brink of committing an act of supreme irrationality. The House members blame their leadership for tasting the bitter dregs of defeat. Yet, the consensus so far is that, in secret ballot, they will re-elect some or all of those leaders.

In private conversation, Republican members of Congress blame Majority Leader John Boehner and Majority Whip Roy Blunt in no small part for their midterm election debacle. Yet, either Boehner, Blunt or both are expected to be returned to their leadership posts Friday. For good reason, the GOP often is called "the stupid party."

While an unpopular Iraq war and an unpopular George W. Bush were primary causes of last Tuesday's Republican rout, massive public disapproval of the Republican-controlled Congress significantly contributed. While abandoning conservative principles, the spendthrift House had become chained to special corporate interests represented by K Street lobbyists.

This malaise is embodied in the avuncular Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, whose consistent response to accusations of failed leadership has been 20-minute lectures to closed-door party conferences pleading for Republican unity. As expected, Hastert is leaving the leadership now that the party is in the minority. But his departure leaves the other leaders in place, with their colleagues reluctant to turn them out.

That reluctance is typified by Rep. Eric Cantor, a 43-year-old third-term congressman from Richmond, Va., who has been his party's chief deputy whip for four years since being appointed by Blunt after only two years in Congress. His voting record is solidly conservative, and he belongs to the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC). At the same time, Cantor is well regarded in all sectors of the party, which see him as the principled kind of rising politician that Republicans desperately need.

But Cantor is not seizing this post-election moment to seek an elected leadership position. On the contrary, he has been supporting Blunt for re-election as whip out of loyalty to his mentor and patron. Bright and able though he is, Cantor has drunk the Kool-Aid in viewing the Republican Party as a private club where personal loyalties must transcend all else.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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