The Demise of the ‘Young Guns’

Less that two months before the 2010 midterms election swept Republicans into a majority in the House, three GOP upstarts published a book titled, Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders. You might remember that the three white guys who assumed they were about take over leadership of their party were Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy.

Each of those men assigned themselves a role as the vanguards of a new Republican Party. Cantor was the leader, Ryan the policy wonk, and McCarthy the strategist. Their so-called “blueprint” was nothing more than the warmed-over policies that generations of Republicans have embraced: tax cuts and deficit reduction via gutting of the social safety net. As Politico noted at the time of the book’s release, it was “long on platitudes and personality but short on policy details.”

Frankly, it was a bit audacious—even for Republicans—to anoint themselves the “new generation of conservative leaders.” But in the midst of the red wave of 2010, those were heady days for the GOP. Even so, the audacity of the young guns was relatively short-lived.

One of the biggest shocks of the 2014 midterms happened when Eric Cantor lost in a primary race to Dave Brat and almost immediately resigned from congress. It was a signal to Republicans that the Tea Partiers were in control and ready to take out anyone who didn’t toe the line completely. In other words, it wouldn’t be the young guns who ran the show.

This week marks the end of Paul Ryan’s tenure in the House. He didn’t get beaten in an election, but seems to be driven by a desire to get out of town as long as his party remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of Donald Trump.

That leaves the strategist—Kevin McCarthy—as the last gun standing. As I noted previously, next year he will play the role of “not-ready-for-prime-time minority leader.” It wouldn’t surprise me at all if his tenure in that role turns out to be as short-lived as Ryan’s.

If there’s a moral to this story other than the utter failure of Republicans to put forward an agenda that can be embraced by the American public, it is that it’s probably not a good idea to preemptively anoint oneself the putative leader of a new political movement with nothing to back it up. That kind of hubris tends backfire—even on Republicans.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .