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Posted by on Apr 5, 2006 in At TMV | 5 comments

Broder: Will Tom DeLay’s Exit Usher In A New Era In Congress?

The Washington Post’s David Broder wonders whether Tom “The Hammer” DeLay’s decision to resign from Congress will usher in a new era more conducive to compromise and — we’ll use that dirty word here (to some) — bipartisanship:

It is one thing to see a Randy “Duke” Cunningham go to jail for bribery. Few outside his San Diego district had ever heard the name of the former Navy “Top Gun” before his spectacular downfall. Tom DeLay is a target of far larger size….

…As prosecutors have extracted guilty pleas from lobbyists close to DeLay and former members of his staff, the ripples of scandal have threatened to spread through Republican ranks in the midterm election. Month after month, surveys are showing Democrats with a double-digit lead over the GOP in the voters’ preference for which party should control Congress…. But the relief his fellow Republicans expressed that they can now recruit a fresh and presumably unscarred candidate in DeLay’s Republican-leaning district shows how nervous they are about holding on to the House.

It is almost as if they hope that by sacrificing their erstwhile commander, they can appease the public demand for change.

Indeed. Will that be enough? Just having DeLay exit with the same smiling confident that he showed when police took his grinning mug shot may not be enough. Particularly because there is not the tiniest admission of guilt from DeLay (broadcast news reports say, in fact, that his lawyers are saying they can beat this rap). Broder notes DeLays (in)famous hardball tactics in political, fundraising and lobbying terms, then writes:

With DeLay’s departure, the Democrats lose their most convenient symbol of abuse of power by the Republican majority — but they have not lost the issue. DeLay’s successor as majority leader, John Boehner of Ohio, continues to manage the House on the same partisan basis, looking for votes almost exclusively on his own side of the aisle and declining to offer Democrats any incentives to cooperate.

To be fair, under DeLay the GOP leadership did reach across the aisle, although it was usually to extend a hand to Democrats with a middle finger raised up. Broder again:

And that raises an interesting challenge for the new White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten. If he is the realist that his admirers believe, he has to acknowledge the odds that there will be fewer Republicans in Congress after November than there are today — and perhaps not a majority.

In other words, the realities may dictate a more consensual approach to politics, where every issue isn’t a rage-splattered polarizing affair.MORE:

In the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert is headed into what is probably his final term before retirement, shorn now of the support and day-to-day managerial muscle of the man who installed him as speaker, Tom DeLay. That means that if the Republicans maintain control, a lame-duck speaker will be working to deliver votes for a lame-duck president.

That could spell an awfully difficult — and unproductive — final two years for the Bush presidency, unless the White House finds a different approach to Capitol Hill.

The old game of muscling bills through by rounding up Republican votes through a combination of political and financial force — the game at which Tom DeLay excelled — is over. The question for the White House is whether it can come up with a different strategy that looks for support from at least some Democrats

Broder notes that the White House needs it in the Senate and will probably need it in the House as well. So it may be political necessity that sparks change. You’d think, though, that politicos of both parties would look at DeLay and this White House and realize that the “gut politics” approach is a double-edged sword. Yes, it keeps your activists in line and ready to pounce. But if you have problems then you can ONLY fall back on the support of your activists because you’ve relentlessly been on the warpath with so many others who are then gunshy.

It’s all about building political capital in other ways besides just having more votes than the other party — about aggregating interests (versus aggravating interests) and building productive coalitions that may include more than just segments of one party. This administration so far seems to have put a low priority on consensus, defining leadership in terms of the ability to use sheer political numbers. Will that (as Broder hopes) change? And, if not, what does that mean for the post-DeLay era?

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