Will K Street increase his power? Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Will K Street increase his power? Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Maybe Eric Cantor should become a lobbyist.

There's a lot of speculation that he's going to. Mark Leibovich noted in the New York Times Magazine over the weekend that retired (or ejected) lawmakers are more and more likely to go that route: "In 1974, according to The Atlantic, 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Now half of all senators and 42 percent of representatives enter the field. And those numbers don't include our former leaders who call themselves 'policy advisers,' consultants or strategists."

The usual assumption is that all these ex-congressmen are doing it for the money. That is an extremely safe assumption.

But ask yourself this question: If a former congressman wants to continue to exercise influence in Washington, isn't a lobbyist exactly what he should become?

I assume Cantor -- who was ousted as House majority leader in a shocking primary election last month -- thinks both that he has some good ideas about what path Republicans should follow and that he'll have good advice about how they should handle new challenges as they arise. Being a high-powered lobbyist would make his advice matter.

Congressmen and their staffs would talk to him because he could influence his clients' political contributions, and because they'd know he was talking to other congressional offices. He would thus maintain his existing relationships with congressmen and create new ones. He'd be in the loop.

The clients would know, for their part, that some of the time Cantor spends with congressmen would be devoted to general issues that concern him instead of to their pet causes. But they wouldn't mind: The more congressmen turn to Cantor for information and advice, the more valuable he is as a lobbyist.

Cantor could, alternatively, join a think tank. But that wouldn't keep congressmen (or an eventual Republican president) from listening to him -- at least not by itself. Nor would it pay so handsomely.

And consultants often have more sway with their parties than even backbench congressmen do. Ed Gillespie, who is now running for Senate in Virginia, used to be one. Cantor won't have the same influence he would have had if he had stayed on track to be Speaker of the House. But he can have a lot -- if he becomes a lobbyist.

He could, of course, find other ways of making a nice living. Some of them, like going to work for an investment bank in New York, would still give him some pull in Washington. And some people will always take his calls because they like and respect him. To maximize his clout, though, lobbying, consulting or strategic advising is probably his best bet.

Maybe it shouldn't be this way, but influence peddling is the most obvious way for a congressman to stay influential.

To contact the writer of this article: Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this column: Timothy Lavin at tlavin1@bloomberg.net.