Back in 2007, THE WEEKLY STANDARD heralded the arrival of three rising Republicans in the House who weren’t then household names. We dubbed them the Young Guns. Eric Cantor of Virginia was the deputy whip, a backbencher elevated by then-whip Roy Blunt. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin hadn’t quite come into his own yet as an influential policy maven. Kevin McCarthy of California was a freshman with a gift for understanding the ups and downs of electoral politics. The three were “agitating for the party to return to its small-government roots and to retake the House.”
Admit it, you’d never heard of these guys back then. If you still haven’t, you soon will. In 2007, they hadn’t thought of themselves as a team, either. But the stories noted their complementary talents: Cantor as party leader in the House, Ryan as policy thinker, McCarthy as strategist and candidate recruiter. They were galvanized into action. They formed a fast-on-its-feet campaign outfit to help GOP challengers win House seats. Its name was inevitable . . . Young Guns.
The three have now become major players in Washington and around the country. Should Republicans win back the House on November 2, Cantor will be a shoo-in for majority leader. With his Road Map for America’s Future, Ryan is the party’s leading policy wonk and will be chairman of the budget committee. McCarthy is the favorite to be majority whip. He’s been the chief recruiter of an impressive army of House candidates this year.
Meanwhile, Young Guns has become the gold standard of Republican campaign crews. To be dubbed a Young Gun, candidates must meet benchmarks: a campaign staff, a detailed plan for winning, fundraising goals. Potential donors, particularly PACs, ask if a candidate is a Young Gun. It’s become a mark of credibility.
Now the three have published a book, titled Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders. They’re not only tough on Democrats but also on the Republicans who controlled Congress from 1994 to 2006. Advance copies distributed in late August stirred hyperbolic Democratic attacks and overwrought media analysis. Nancy Pelosi’s office issued a “fact sheet” under this headline: “Congressional Republicans Release Details of Agenda; Includes Privatizing Social Security, Ending Medicare.” The press tried to foment conflict between Cantor, Ryan, and McCarthy and other Republican leaders, citing the book to suggest Cantor might challenge John Boehner for House speaker if Republicans take over. “Typical media wedge-driving,” one Republican said.
It’s the attention the book has gotten that’s most revealing. In 2007, it was a bit farfetched to think the trio of young guns would soon become important political figures with national influence. But they have.