We suspect the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will sooner or later be exposed as a politically motivated prosecution. But whether DeLay is found guilty or exonerated, we believe his demotion will be a good thing for the Grand Old Party.
No one likes to see a good and honest person become the victim of a smear, so we can understand why DeLay’s many loyal colleagues stood by him this long, if he is, in fact, innocent. We aren’t prejudging the case here. But the ethics controversies that swirled around DeLay were becoming a distraction at a time when important business is before Congress.
We’ve long believed that DeLay is not the best face the party could put forward to the public. And if he is the best the party can do, it’s in deeper trouble than we thought.
DeLay is frequently credited with being responsible for the Republicans maintaining their majority status for the last decade. And there may be truth to that. But his tactical brilliance hasn’t translated into strategic success, at least as we’d define it.
The party has gone astray under his leadership and largely squandered its opportunity by running up deficits that would make the Democratic majority of old proud. DeLay has a reputation as a conservative. But under this majority leader, congressional spending has been anything but conservative.
We were shocked to hear DeLay saying recently that Congress has cut everything it possibly can from the budget — suggesting a state of delusion or propensity for deception that should by itself qualify him for a demotion.
He has the loyalty of many Republican colleagues. But we wonder if it’s a loyalty born of respect and affection, or of fear and intimidation. He didn’t earn the nickname “the Hammer” for nothing.
Whatever he’s like in person, DeLay has never come across in public as inspiring, amiable or of unshakable integrity, as did Republican leaders of old, like Ronald Reagan, Howard Baker or Bob Dole.
It’s only fair to point out that neither party seems to have leaders of real stature these days: As bad as DeLay comes across, he’s warm and cuddly compared to a screaming Howard Dean or smug and smarmy Hillary Rodham Clinton.
DeLay will continue to be a force to be reckoned with on Capitol Hill, even with a lower profile. But his absence from center stage could end up enhancing the majority’s image with the public and improving its ability to get things done.