The day of reckoning on the debt ceiling is coming, and for no one in Congress is it more portentous than for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. A political figure of unarguable talent and ambition, the Virginia Republican could one day pursue any number of jobs: speaker of the House, governor of his home state, U.S. senator. Some Republicans believe that Cantor fantasizes about being the nation’s first Jewish president.

Whatever his long-term goals, the next several weeks will go a long way toward deciding Cantor’s future. The unifying thread in his debt-ceiling machinations the past four weeks has been to burnish his credentials as the leading free-market conservative in the House. To attain his political ambitions, Cantor must not let that newly forged impression become tarnished. And because Washington doesn’t know and cannot see the debt-ceiling endgame, Cantor’s ability to help Speaker John Boehner negotiate a deal that can pass the House and satisfy conservatives towers over his future.

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