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What Happened to the Young Guns?

Two of the three Young Guns, McCarthy, left, and Ryan, are still around. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When Kevin McCarthy and fellow Republican Reps. Paul D. Ryan and Eric Cantor ganged up in 2007 as the new generation of conservative leadership, they did a great job putting the party's goals down on paper, the man who unseated Cantor said Friday.  

"But my question to them is, do they mean it? Did they just do that as a political ploy to run or was that a real pledge to America?" challenged Virginia Rep. Dave Brat.  "Because usually when you do a pledge, you intend to keep your pledge." Counting the "Young Guns" casualties, first comes then-House Majority Leader Cantor's stunning June 2014 primary loss  to Brat.  

Next, McCarthy shocked his fellow Republicans when the Californian backed out of his bid to be the next speaker.  

Republicans, including many of the members who ran on the GOP's 2010 "Pledge to America," see Ryan as their dream speaker. But the Wisconsin congressman has said he doesn't want the top post , though the pressure on him to run is growing.  

"It's still there," Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores said, when asked about the Young Guns platform.  

"Young Guns was designed to get bright leaders in Congress and I was one of the Young Guns. Gosh, there are probably 50 of us that are in that room in there," the Texan told CQ Roll Call in the Speaker's Lobby, gesturing to the House chamber. "And so, we haven't gone away."  

The trio's influence is found not just in their success recruiting Republican candidates, but in a triple-bylined book "Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders" published shortly before the 2010 elections.  

Another member of the class of 2010 has become one of the loudest cheerleaders for a Ryan speakership.  

"I've never seen anybody more disciplined and focused, personally or professionally, than Paul Ryan," said Rep. Bill Huizenga, who does P90X workouts with Ryan in the House gym. "He eats the same thing every day. It's the exact same. You set your watch by it. He is — he's got a pattern about what he does. He's disciplined about it."  

The Michigan Republican, trying to make #RunPaulRun trendy on Twitter, said the Young Guns recruitment program helped draft stellar candidates for future leadership races. But the next generation of leaders isn't ripe yet. Paul Ryan is, the thinking goes.  

"There is a certain amount of institutional knowledge that I think is helpful. I think there is a certain amount of policy understanding that is helpful. A certain set of experiences, having played at a certain level, that is helpful. And how do you strike that balance with somebody who is going to be new, different and innovative?" Huizenga asked.  

In 2010, the National Republican Congressional Committee named Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., one of its 52 "Young Guns" candidates. Webster has thrown his hat in for speaker, but Huizenga does not think his colleague is ready.  

"As one of my friends back in Lansing always used to say, you know, 'You can have a pot of water, throw vegetables in it, throw the meat in it, and all that other stuff. But at some point it's not soup yet, right?'" he said.  "At some point it becomes soup, where it becomes more than just the sum of its parts, it becomes kind of that whole package. I just don't — I have not seen that yet."  

Brat was frustrated by a recent New York Times op-ed from Cantor. In his Sept. 27 take on the GOP after Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, announced his resignation, Cantor wrote that far-right conservatives had derailed the party.  

"But somewhere along the road, a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies. They took to the airwaves and the Internet and pronounced that congressional Republicans could undo the president’s agenda — with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise," he wrote.  

Cantor said those voices "have not been honest with our fellow conservatives" and called for the GOP to "fight smartly ... I have never heard of a football team that won by throwing only Hail Mary passes, yet that is being demanded of Republican leaders today."  

Brat accused the former majority leader of presenting a contradiction. "Every Republican ran on those mainstream Republican principles," Brat said. "Is that unrealistic?" He said the 151 Republicans who opposed the continuing resolution represented a large enough coalition to uproot any potential speaker who was too cozy with the current leadership.  

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., sees the most viable speaker — Young Gun or not — as someone who can form bipartisan coalitions to govern.  

"If they choose the current course, which is appeasement and accommodation to the rejectionist wing of the party," Dent said, "we'll be stuck in this circular firing squad."

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