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GADFLY: DeLayed Reaction

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In all the brouhaha over the now-multiple indictments of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, two things seem to stand out: first, DeLay expects to continue to run things (and he has said so), no matter what happens with his indictment, and second, Republicans are rushing to the life boats to desert the sinking DeLay ship.

On the first point, DeLay, that loveable curmudgeon whose only crime, if you ask him, is loving the Republican party too much (isn't that a country music lyric?), announced that he can, and will, do the job of House leader, even without the title, and that he will return, eventually, to resume that post. Republicans were, understandably, quick to pull the rug out from under both those assertions, but the question is how much was their reaction just window dressing designed to placate a public increasingly troubled by government corruption. The answer will depend on how willing they are to go up against the great and powerful DeLay, and I'm afraid that answer will be, not very.

The hubris demonstrated by DeLay in asserting that his involuntary departure from his position as majority leader was, in essence, nothing more than a speed bump in the road of his continued leadership of the GOP was nothing short of a Guinness record for chutzpah, even for a politician. One can only assume DeLay meant that, even if he is convicted, he can continue to serve in the role, if not in the position, of a leader of his party (hey, even if he's convicted, it'll be years before he goes to the clink, what with interminable appeals). It put me in mind of Mafia dons, like John Gotti, who continue to wield power over their crime syndicates even after they're sent to jail. DeLay is nothing if not the don of the Republican party (okay, maybe just a capo). They don't call him “the hammer” because he knows what to do with a nail.

The distance some Republicans are putting between themselves and DeLay can now be measured in a currency even more important to politics than rhetoric: currency. Several Republicans either already have, or have announced plans to, return campaign contributions they received from PAC's affiliated with DeLay. That's unheard of in the annals of political money. And editorial writers are calling for politicians who benefited from DeLay's campaign finance mastery to renounce the contributions they have received as well. Support for DeLay is continuing to erode as Republicans reel from the multiple whammy of the DeLay indictments, the Frist insider trading investigation, the arrest of the White House insider, David Safavian, the tightening noose around the known associates of the notorious lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, and the Katrina debacle, not to mention the breath everyone is holding waiting for the outcome in the Plamegate investigation, and the increasingly dire situation in Iraq.

Given the PR tsunami suffered by the Republicans in recent weeks (which I suggest is unparalleled by anything since Watergate), and the impending increase in their misery from possible indictments in the Plame case, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the only things Republicans renounced was just DeLay-related money. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that we may see Republicans renounce their party as well.

Party switching has a rich history in this country, and it has occasionally been prompted by the kind of ham-handed (not ham-sandwiched) control exercised by party leaders we're seeing now. And, whether it was southern Democrats who voted with their feet during the civil rights era, or more recent party defections, the party-changing phenomenon has rarely been motivated by anything as idealistic as a philosophical difference, but has more often been motivated by electability. So, as the GOP becomes increasingly slimed by its own malefactors, if some of the more moderate members of the GOP (Chris Schays comes to mind in the house, as do Susan Collins, Lincoln Chaffee and Chuck Hagel in the Senate), especially as we approach mid-term election season, begin to sense a sea change in the public's perception of, and tolerance for, Republican shenanigans, I fully expect to see some reinvented Democrats before November, 2006.

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