The DeLay Dilemma And The Successor Search
Indicted Tom DeLay has stepped down as House Majority Leader temporarily, we are told, but now the real dilemmas surface over his successor, his party’s stance towards him and his case, the response of Democrats — and the values the nation will choose by the way it reacts to these multi-fold dramas.
Now, as DeLay becomes the first House leader to go on trial in a century, the GOP is at a perilous crossroads — and so are the Democrats.
And, simmering under this swirling stew of controversies ready to be cooked up and served to the nation via the news media, is a fundamental question: will the batch of shoes that will soon be loudly dropped be good for the nation or be just one more abrupt shove into rage-tinged political polarization?
Republicans and their supporters have immediately said DeLay’s indictment is a political vendetta by a partisan, but
other news reports such as this piece in the Houston Chronicle say Prosecutor Democrat Ronnie Earle has ruffled feathers on both sides:
DeLay called Earle a “partisan fanatic.”
It is true that Earle’s most recent targets have been Republicans, who are now in power in Texas. But the Travis County district attorney, the state’s top enforcer of ethics laws, has for the past 28 years prosecuted â€” and been attacked by â€” far more Democrats.
“Best I can tell, for the most part he’s been an equal opportunity abuser of Republicans and Democrats,” said University of Texas at Austin government professor Bruce Buchanan.
Paul Burka, senior executive editor of Texas Monthly magazine and a longtime observer of the state’s politics, said in an interview, “I don’t think Ronnie is seen here as a total partisan.” He added that Earle “didn’t look the other way in his own party” when public officials broke or bent laws. Burka said Earle is “not your typical DA” who talks tough about wiping out crime and sending miscreants to prison. Instead, Burka said, “he talks about ‘holistic approaches to crime,’ ” sometimes to the bemusement of fellow Texans.
The Republicans have now come circle from those days when Newt Gingrich excitedly talked of an impending Republican Revolution that wouldn’t just be in terms of policy but in terms of political purity — a future with term limits, where the corrupt Democratic party order in the House would be overthrown and replaced by a more principled, honest, and ideological pure Republican era. Gingich has since criticized Delay on ethics.
May we go out on a limb and venture that the GOP has fallen short of this goal?
Money raising-maven Delay’s indictment, his even temporary absence coupled with the lousy imagery this creates (let alone the other GOP scandals marinating as this is being written) is perilous to the GOP, as the San Francisco Chronicle notes:
Even if he is found not guilty — and DeLay insisted Wednesday that he would be fully vindicated — his absence from the leadership ranks deprives House Republicans of their most skilled and tenacious advocate and hands Democrats a potent weapon for next year’s election.
Eleven years after House Republicans swept into power, they are facing the same accusations of arrogance that plagued Democrats in their final days as the majority party. DeLay’s troubles punctuate a tumultuous year that began with talk of building a “permanent majority” and has evolved into an open struggle over what the GOP stands for and how it can maintain its advantage.
On this and other issues, the GOP is facing a Moment of Truth: how to define its political soul. As the Chronicle reports, DeLay’s troubles could have an impact on campaign candidate recruitment and come amid debate over whether its wise to pursue changes in Social Security and whether the government should spend cazillions on Hurricane Katrina/Rita reconstruction.
The key battle — raging not just in the case of DeLay’s replacement, but in the case of Terry Schiavo, the selection of Supreme Court judges and others — is over the heart and soul of the GOP. Is it a big tent embracing various factions of Republicanism or a conservative tent where others are selectively allowed in? Is the conservative faction running the party? And is the dog wagging its tail or the tail wagging the dog?
Even in the case of selecting DeLay’s replacement the conservatives went to the mat — and reportely won, big-time, according to the Washington Post. The Post reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert THOUGHT he had it arranged for Rep. David Dreir to take over for DeLay…until he faced a rebellion:
What he and Hastert wanted was a timeserver, someone to hold the job but with no ambitions to stay in it. And they had someone in mind. This week, an aide to the speaker approached Rep. David Dreier about his role in a post-DeLay caucus. Dreier, a congenial Californian who has loyally served the GOP leadership as Rules Committee chairman, expressed interest in helping Hastert.
There was one big problem: When DeLay’s indictment was unsealed yesterday, conservatives in the GOP caucus immediately erupted in anger over rumors that the selection of Dreier, whom they regard as too moderate, was being presented as a fait accompli .
As the conservatives met to vent frustrations and plot options, Hastert was changing course in a separate meeting on the second floor of the Capitol. Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the majority whip, was making a personal appeal for the promotion. Hastert agreed, forestalling a possible revolt by conservatives, who regard Blunt as one of their own.
The timing of all this couldn’t be worse for the GOP. But, indeed, additional reports say Blunt will continue DeLay’s political agenda — so GOP Congressional leadership will go from The Hammer to The Photocopier….which should be good news to GOPers.
The Democrats face their own set of dilemmas. Battered by intra-party tensions that seemingly stem back to the old McGovern/Humphrey split, the Democrats, after talking in a nearly united voice for a while, now seem to be lacking a central message. The fact that DeLay resigned (even if temporarily) took some of the wind out of the Democrats’ sails on this one. The best thing for the Demmies: if he beats the case on a technicality and comes back so he can be a political boogieman. The worst thing for them: if he’s convicted or eventually eased out for a new, fresher face.
But there is a larger issue with the Democrats: it often seems to be a party working overtime to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Newsweek’s Howard Fineman notes that the Democrats have missed opportunities, bungled issues virtually handed to them, and lack a single clearly-defined reason that voters could latch onto to justify putting them back into the White House:
I led my NEWSWEEK piece with an anecdote about President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. When a huge hurricane hit New Orleans that year, he hustled down to Louisiana, and was on the scene within a day, offering the full resources of the federal government to help get the region back on its feet.
I thought it was an instructive contrast to Bushâ€™s too-little, too-late personal response to Katrina. But the anecdote contains a lesson for Democrats, too: LBJ stood for a big idea â€” the healing power of government. He was in the mist of his Great Society presidency.
What Big Idea would a Democratic presidency be about? No one seems to know, which is perhaps the main reason why the party faithful in that room seemed so lost.
As a result, the Democrats often appear to be merely stuck in oppose mode. Democrats would (and do) argue that there’s much to oppose — but the bottom line is they need to think through and present policies that are viable alternatives.
How will the Democrats react to the DeLay development? Which leads us to….
The Reaction Of The Two Parties And Their Partisans has been breathakingly predictable. Many GOPers have seemingly circled the wagons to immediate defend DeLay and attack the prosecutor as a partisan hack. Many Democrats have DeLay convicted, although no evidence is officially in yet.
In 21st century America actual facts are less important than — above all — winning a game of political domination (the whips and chains are news outlets and blogs).
But it’s much more than that. The bottom line is that the partisans of each party have a world view and are convinced they are correct. There used to be a time when skilled politicos from both parties finessed these world views and tried to craft conventional wisdom — or consensus. In 21st century America (so far) it’s a lost art.
The administration now faces a situation more complex than 24 hours earlier. Does DeLay’s exit and the conservatives winning their way on his replacement mean the White House is more or less likely to give that faction the party what they want in the next Supreme Court nominee (we will find out very soon)? Does the conservative rebellion over the leadership’s decision on Dreir portend an easier time for the White House (a cohesive conservative group in place) or a messier time (this assumes the White House plans some surprises on policies and the next Supreme Court Justice)?
So a final question is the kind of impact these events — and events stemming from the events — will have on the political center. As John Avlon documents in his great book Independent Nation, the center does indeed exist. .
The biggest peril seems to be the one facing the GOP: with Iraq, the hurricanes and a host of other issues, the GOP’s cushion of political capital is diminishing. To be sure, Bush won the last election by getting almost every single member of the GOP base, and not doing well among Democrats or even moderates.
But right now the future promises more hitches than a Boy Scout knot.
THIS IS JUST OUR VIEW. THERE ARE MANY OTHER VOICES ON THIS ISSUE AND HERE IS A CROSS SECTION OF EXCERPTS (use link to read whole posts):
Of course, I’m reserving judgment on the ultimate verdict, and DeLay deserves the benefit of being regarded as innocent before being found guilty. But I will say this: there is a clear stench of corruption coming from the Republican power-structure in Washington. It’s been there for a while now. The Abramoff case illustrates it perfectly. With their incoherent big-spending policies already exposing them as conservative frauds, and with each day finding another ethical problem with the GOP leadership, the conditions are ripe for a Democratic come-back in 2006. The only question is whether the Democrats are still too pathetic to take advantage of this.
–Captain Ed says it’s political:
Ronnie Earle has tried to derail DeLay for years, and he has conducted himself in a most partisan fashion in doing it. Rather than investigate these charges in a clearheaded, direct, and nonpartisan manner, Earle has made no bones about his personal and political vendetta. He has openly used this investigation as a Democratic Party fundraising device, charging up Democratic rallies such as one last May that raised over $100,000, featuring Earle on the stump talking about the case and DeLay. According to the American Bar Association Canon of Ethics, Earle has violated DR7-107(A) as well as (B)(1). He also has clearly violated EC8-8, which states that lawyers who serve as public officers “should not engage in activities in which his personal or professional interests are or foreseeably may be in conflict with his official duties.
—-The Political Teen offers this video of Tom DeLay making his case on Sean Hannity.
–David Corn (The Nation):
The Texas indictment–in which DeLay and his associates are accused of illegally running corporate contributions through the national Republican party in order to skirt the state ban on corporate donations to local candidates–is but one questionable episode in DeLay’s history. But it is now the biggest and most direct threat to his future. Conviction could lead to a fine and imprisonment–and removal from the House. His lawyer quickly dismissed the indictment as a “skunk.” And DeLay came out hammering. But, as Dezenhall pointed out, there is only so much DeLay can do. Spin cannot derail the criminal proceedings underway. A judge and a jury will have the last word on this indictment. The former exterminator who became arguably the most powerful man on Capitol Hill (see my piece on how he took control of NASA) is at the mercy of others whom–we assume–he cannot bully. And the damage to come may end up being beyond his control.
–Right Wing News’ John Hawkins argues no matter what DeLay must go. Here’s a small part of this must read post:
Most Republicans, for the moment at least, will stick by Tom DeLay’s side and insist that they want him back as Majority Leader after he beats the rap.
That is a mistake.
At one time, Tom DeLay was a great conservative leader of the House. Unfortunately, he has been in Washington too long. If you doubt that, you need look no further than his now infamous assertion that the GOP has achieved an “ongoing victory” over spending….
What Republicans in the House need to understand is that there’s a time to “stand by your man” and there is a time to turn a crisis into an opportunity. This would seem to be the opportune time for House Republicans to get rid of the biggest spending Majority Leader in history while also appearing to take a tough stand against corruption. They should make the most of it.
As our Sister Toldjah noted earlier, the “indictment” of Tom Delay is entirely bogus – from what I’ve read, Tom Delay didn’t know about the perfectly legal transaction he is accused of conspiring to make. We have now left entirely the field of normal political conflict and entered a twilight world where fantasy is presented as fact and the only standard of conduct is “will it work?”. This is not the actions of a political Party engaged in seeking a majority – it is the action of a Party determined to destroy its opponents entirely and sieze all power for itself…it is, in short, the stuff from which civil wars are made…
I really do urge our Democrats to step back from the edge – you are sitting in a lake of gasoline and you are playing with fire. We on our side will only put up with so much before we start to pay back with usury what we have received. If you can’t defeat Tom Delay in the electoral field, then you will simply have to accept him as Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives – and you’d better start accepting political reality before things get really bad.
–Americablog:”So, the maestro has given all his lackies the talking points. It’s all partisanship. In a way, he’s right, but he’s got it backwards. He is in trouble for partisanship. But the partisanship that got him in trouble was his own. He’s so obsessed with GOP rule, that he was willing to break the law. That’s what partisan fanatics do.”
–Josh Trevino at Red State:
The pity is that Republicans who care more about their party than about the cult of personality attendant to its key figures have long warned of this day. We knew all along that Tom DeLay was a bully — ask the Heritage Foundation about his penchant for petty grudges. We knew all along that he was, on a fundamental level, unprincipled — ask him about the fat in the Federal budget. We knew all along that he was mostly interested in power for its own sake — recall, please, that he sought a House rules change to protect his leadership position in this very circumstance. And we knew that if it came to an indictment, it would be the end.
Our task, then, was to make it the end for him, and not the Republican House majority or the conservative movement in power. In this, we failed. It is not a failure we were forced into: it is one we embraced, and hence one we deserve……
….. On a legal level, he is almost certainly guilty of nothing more than a poor choice of friends. This, though, is politics: he’s done. And being done, a man who truly has the best interests of conservatism at heart would have stepped down to save the movement he purported to love. Tom DeLay has not, and that tells us all we need to know about what he values most.
—In Search of Utopia:”Bill Clinton talked about building a bridge to the 21 century. Republicans built a bridge back to the era of “The Grapes of Wrath.” 37 million Americans live in poverty. Tom Delay’s wife and daughter made $500,000 working on his campaign. Bill Frist made between $2 million and $6 million from a tip that he needed to sell his stocks. These men support tax cuts, but are silent on the issue of armor for soldiers. That’s not patriotism. That’s protecting the bottom line.’
—Josh Marshall:”Who will bag tomorrow’s big story: what happened inside that House GOP caucus meeting this afternoon? Just what issue torpedoed David Dreier after Speaker Hastert had given him the nod? What about the folks outside the meeting? Rove weighed in. What did he say? Time for DeLay to go? How about Spongebob nemesis James Dobson? Would he not abide David Dreier?’
Delay’s main problem is not his ethics, but his inability to say nice things about truly reprehensible people or mask his agenda with masterful ambiguity. Apparently he knows this better than anyone, declining to stand for Speaker when he was a clear frontrunner for the job.
From my perspective, its fundamentally hypocritical to make this a “Delay problem” when its very clear Washington would require nukes to eliminate the culture of insider-trading. On the other hand, prosecutorial misconduct to advance a party’s interest is not a nudge-nudge-wink-wink foible–its a devastating blow to the integrity of the legal system.
Tom DeLay will not return as Majority Leader of the House of Representatives. Whatever the outcome of his upcoming trial, he is finished as a Republican Leader. He sealed his doom when he suggested that there was no more fat to be cut out of the federal government. His right wing base both outside and inside the House will now be far less likely to stick with him.
DeLay has become for the Republicans what Jim Wright somewhat unfairly became for the Democrats in the early ’90s – a symbol of an entrenched, corrupt establishment….
…..We have entered the season of the indictments – Delay, Abramoff and the Plame investigation will soon come to a head. C-Span will merge with Court T.V. The challenge for the Democrats is to seize the mantle of reform. Perhaps, Newt should become a donkey consultant – after all his Presidential ambition is a big beneficiary of the DeLay indictment.
The Republican “revolution” has ended. But, there remains desire in America to clean up politics and reform the process. The corrupt money rule of the GOP offers the Democrats an opportunity to clean up the system.
–The Poorman:”Notably missing, so far, is any kind of â€œhey! look over there!â€? accusations about Democratic malfeasance, although I am counting the minutes until Drudge exposes Barbara Boxerâ€™s shameful record of returning library books weeks or even months past due, costing the American taxpayer literally thousands of hundreds of dozens of dollars! or whatever. But, while I wait, Iâ€™ll think Iâ€™ll make some more Jiffy Pop. Good times, good times.”
–Running Scared’s Jazz Shaw:”Here’s a question for you, but don’t think about it too long or hard – if this trial runs well into next year’s election cycle and DeLay is in the midst of a criminal trial, do you think the good people of Texas would still elect him again? Don’t answer too soon. I have a sick feeling that they would.”