The original Republican Young Guns are high-ranking leaders now, and the group and its members are trying to hold on to a brand that previously brought them so much success.
In the 2008 cycle, three emerging GOP Members started the Young Guns program — an organization to recruit and support the next generation of Republican leaders. Republicans hyped the fresh faces of Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Eric Cantor (Va.) as the future of their party at the time.
The trio now holds three of the top positions in House GOP leadership. But over the course of the past four years, the Young Guns brand diffused into separate franchises and, in the process, may have lost some of its original flavor.
“The Young Guns ‘brand’ is going through somewhat of an identity crisis,” one GOP strategist said. “They are no longer perceived as up-and-coming Members. They are the establishment, and that requires a certain style of leadership.”
Most recently, the YG Action Fund super PAC — run by a former Cantor aide — waded into the Illinois primary between freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger and longtime Rep. Don Manzullo, drawing the ire of many GOP Members. The PAC spent $52,000 on a radio ad boosting Kinzinger, whom Cantor personally endorsed. That investment paid off Tuesday, when Kinzinger toppled Manzullo.
Rep. James Lankford (Okla.), a freshman lawmaker who was not part of the Young Guns program — now run by the National Republican Congressional Committee — in 2010, called Cantor’s involvement a tough call. With so many members of the 2010 Young Gun class now up for re-election, Lankford also acknowledged that the group is trying to figure itself out and that the episode in Illinois is an example of that soul searching.
“I think they’re still trying to figure that out because it’s new,” Lankford said. “You’ve got three people who coordinated all that in the past, and does that continue going on? Is there a transition? Is it a permanent part of the NRCC from here on out and loses the mystique that it once had?”
On Tuesday, Cantor reiterated that his support in the Member-vs.-Member race was simply making good on a promise he made to Kinzinger last summer.
“I try to always be somebody of his word,” he explained.
Manzullo said last week that Cantor’s involvement in the primary has been toxic within the GOP Conference, and this week he said the Majority Leader should resign his position.
“I can’t tell you how upset the rest of the Members of the Republican Conference are — that what Cantor did is very divisive,” Manzullo said during an interview last week.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.