Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), House Majority Leader, spoke to Dana Bash, CNN’s chief congressional correspondent, about his primary loss and the future of the Republican Party in Congress.
On his political mission and the future of the Republican Party, Cantor said, “I am determined to continue on the mission that our party needs to be one of inclusion, not exclusion. There are so many more things that bind us together than pull us apart. And, frankly, if we compare that to the liberalism on the left and those who believe that government is going to provide all the answers, there is enough great difference between us as conservatives, and the left, for us to be focusing on that. And I think ultimately, our country needs a strong robust Republican Party that believes in the principles of limited government, personal responsibility, a handout — not a handout. And I’m going to continue to work on that mission as I go forward.”
Transcript and videos from the interview are available after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, HOST: Mr. Leader, thank you so much for — for sitting down with me.
The first question is what is your single — what is the thing that you think is the single biggest reason you lost?
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: You know, Dana, I think the obvious is I came up short in terms of number of votes. But I…
BASH: But why?
CANTOR: You know, I really don’t think that there is any one reason for the outcome of the election, that, you know, there’s just a lot of things that go through voters’ minds when they go to the voting booth.
But I’ll — I’ll tell you one thing, we — we ran my campaign the same way that, you know, I’m trying to focus my work here in the debate in Washington. And that is focusing on people who have real problems. And what are those conservative solutions to people’s problems that are struggling with either no job or very low wages?
How do we affect their outcomes by applying our conservative solutions?
And, in fact, as I go forward to the next chapter in my life, I’m going to continue that mission.
CANTOR: I’m going to continue the mission…
CANTOR: — to try and help people.
BASH: — before we talk about — and we want to talk about the future, but I just want to go a little bit to — go going night in particular.
Obviously, the reaction for people like me and everybody who cover you was shock and disbelief.
What was it like to be you?
Take — take us to the moment when you realized, wow, I’m going to lose here.
CANTOR: Well, you know, I was with my family. And, um, you know, it’s — it’s — it’s very comforting. And, as you know, if you have a strong family — and I have a wonderful wife of 25 years, three wonderful kids, two of whom were with me.
And, you know, I told them, I said, look, dad is going to lose. And I actually called my son, who works up in New York, and I told him. And he said, you’re kidding I said, no, I’m really not.
He said, you’re kidding?
I said, no. You know, I said, look, but, you know, things happen for a reason. We don’t always know right here and now why. And I think the perspective of time will actually indicate something that may have seemed really bad at the time can turn out to be really good.
BASH: Your pollster had you up 34 points. You ended up losing by 12 points. Uh, now, he sent us a memo overnight arguing that he thinks it’s that Democrats voted in your Republican primary, which is allowed in Virginia.
Let me just read you a quote. He said, “The untold story is who were the new 19,000 new primary voters? They aren’t Republicans. Certainly, the extra voter surge of non-Republican primary voters seriously hurt.”
Do you think that Democrats came out for some mischief and voted you out?
CANTOR: You know, Dana, I don’t think it’s really worthwhile — I know there’s going to be a lot of people and pollsters (INAUDIBLE)…
BASH: You’re a pol. You’re such a pol, you know…
CANTOR: And — and — and…
BASH: I’m sure you’re thinking about it.
CANTOR: No, I’m not, because I’m looking forward. You know, and I think, again, a lot of folks are going to be interested in that.
But to me, you know, the prob — the problems, uh, that people are facing in this country are a lot greater than any kind of setback, political setback, personal setback I’ve got.
So I really am very focused on continuing on the mission that I’ve tried to be about here in Washington. It’s those reform conservative solutions that actually can be applied to people’s problems in the working middle class of this country, the poor, and, uh, for everyone.
BASH: I was told that, uh, the day after you lost, you came into the office. You were the one comforting your staffers, who were crying. In the meeting with fellow Republican lawmakers, you were comforting people who were crying. You mentioned just before your family and what a family man you are. I know that side of you, because I get to cover you in the hallways of Congress every day.
Do you think that looking back, maybe — you were maybe perceived not as, uh, that perception of you as a human being didn’t get across as much…
BASH: — and that, you know, people crave authenticity these days.
Do you kind of re— regret that?
CANTOR: Listen, I don’t have any regrets, you know, because I remain focused on the mission, um, that I’m about. I’ve been so honored to represent the people of the Seventh District of Virginia, one of the highest honors of my life, and then to be privileged by my colleagues to serve as majority leader. Huge. I mean that’s such a privilege. So, again, I am looking forward, um, having, I think, felt good about the kinds of things that we’ve done thus far, while we’ve been in the majority. And I know my colleagues will, uh, continue…
BASH: I have to…
CANTOR: — (INAUDIBLE).
BASH: — I know you don’t want to look back. I have two more questions on this, important ones.
Immigration — a lot has been made about whether immigration played a role into this. You — what I want to know is I actually have, maybe a different take, is whether or not you supported and you still support giving legal status to illegal immigrant children.
And — and you sent, uh, some fliers out. And you made very clear politically — there you have — you see it up there — that you think that, uh, it’s amnesty and that you’re against illegal immigration.
Is part of the issue that maybe you — it was a little too wishy-washy and you didn’t go all in?
CANTOR: Listen, I — I — my position on immigration has not changed. It was the way it is before the primary, during it and now. And I took a principled position. I have always said that I am not for a comprehensive amnesty bill, but I’ve always said that I was for the kids who, due to no fault of their own, find themselves here and know no other place as home.
Now, I know that that can make a lot of people mad on both sides. But I do think it is the only plausible way forward in terms of immigration reform, that we focus on the things that we agree on, not that which we don’t, and build the trust so that we can get something done.
I’ve said this to the president. My colleagues are aware of my position. And, again, it — it did, I’m sure, um, aggravate people on both sides of the issue, but it is the principled position that I’ve taken and I believe it’s the right one.
BASH: The role of religion. You are a Jewish Republican, the only Jewish Republican in the House. Uh, you started your discussion after you lost quoting the Old Testament, talking about your Jewish faith. Your district is one quarter of 1 percent Jewish and your opponent, David Brat, really put his Christian faith front and center.
I want you to listen to one of the things he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID BRAT (R-VA), CANDIDATE FOR THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The miracle that just happened, this is a miracle from God that just happened.
BRAT: But that — that miracle did not just float down from heaven.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Do you think that there was anti-Semitism involved in your defeat?
CANTOR: Listen, I — I don’t even want to impute that to anybody. You know, as you rightly say, I’m born and raised Jewish. My faith is very important to me. Uh, and, um, you know, I knew that I’m going to continue to try and work with the lessons that I’ve learned from my early years in Hebrew school, learning about the Old Testament and much greater leaders than I with personal setbacks, uh, but always focused on being optimistic about the future.
Our country has so much potential. You know, I believe that the Republican Party, uh, is one that taps into that innate potential…
BASH: Well, I — on — on that issue, when the shutdown ended at the end of last year, you said in private, my understanding is, your fellow Republicans should stop eating their own. You got eaten.
So on that note, what does your loss mean for the Republican Party?
CANTOR: Well, you know, I — I think that, you know, I’ve all — and said that day, um, that we reopened the government that — that we, as conservatives and as Republicans, um, we may have some differences. But they pale in comparison to the differences that we have…
BASH: But the voters in your own district…
CANTOR: — with the left.
BASH: — didn’t buy that. They voted another Republican in…
BASH: — and instead of you.
CANTOR: — again, go — going back is not what I want to do. I want to go forward.
BASH: But I — I — I mean as — as a forward-looking, you know, issue. If — if you can’t beat a Republican, what does it mean about Republicans…
CANTOR: I am…
BASH: — going forward?
CANTOR: — I am determined to continue on the mission that our party needs to be one of inclusion, not exclusion. There are so many more things that bind us together than pull us apart. And, frankly, if we compare that to the liberalism on the left and those who believe that government is going to provide all the answers, there is enough great difference between us as conservatives, and the left, for us to be focusing on that.
And I think ultimately, our country needs a strong robust Republican Party that believes in the principles of limited government, personal responsibility, a handout — not a handout. And I’m going to continue to work on that mission as I go forward.
BASH: Are you going to vote for David Brat?
CANTOR: Listen, I — I want a Republican to hold this seat. Of course. Of course. I — this is about making sure that we have a strong Republican majority in the House. I’m hopeful we’ll take it in the Senate, as well. I’m very optimistic about that. So we can, frankly, have a real check and balance on the kinds of things that are making it so tough for people under the Obama economy.
BASH: What’s next for you?
I know it’s soon.
Any chance you would run for governor of Virginia?
CANTOR: No. I’ll tell you, I — I am a — right now, looking forward to sitting down with my wife, Diana. And we’ve talked a little bit. But we’re going to talk some more about — about the future and…
BASH: But you’re not done with politics.
CANTOR: You know, I — I — I’m not ready to close out any options right now. I just think that right now, there’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve been very gratified by the people who have already called and say, hey, what are you doing?
Um, and, I know that in my, almost, I think, 23 years of public service now, between the Virginia House and the House up here, you know, there are ways to serve, um, not just in public office. And I’m looking forward to engaging in those kinds of things and to continue on the mission of reform conservatism the way that we have here, that actually helps people by our applying those conservative solutions.
BASH: Mr. Leader, Happy Father’s Day.
CANTOR: Thank you.
BASH: Thank you so much for coming in.
CANTOR: Thank you.
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