By all appearances, Tom DeLay's legal fight, which prompted him to temporarily relinquish his position as House Majority Leader after he was indicted by a grand jury in Texas yesterday, is just what he says it is: an abuse of power by a politically motivated prosecutor. The accusation is that DeLay's associates at his Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, John Colyandro and James Ellis, took corporate donations to TRMPAC and forwarded them to the Republican National Committee within 60 days before an election. It is not clear either that this is actually illegal, especially if the corporate donations didn't occur after the 60-day deadline (and if they did, it's not clear why the corporations themselves aren't under scrutiny). And it really isn't clear what DeLay is supposed to have actually done as part of this conspiracy; the indictment accuses only Colyandro and Ellis of "overt acts in pursuance" of the conspiracy, and it's unusual for a conspiracy charge not to include allegations of overt acts by each defendant.
So, should Republicans close ranks and stand by their man? Well, no. If Republican leaders offer supportive words for DeLay, the best case scenario goes like this: Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle receives the kind of abusive coverage that Kenneth Starr got during the Clinton scandals (not likely), and DeLay is exonerated -- but only after months when DeLay's troubles tarnish the GOP at large. At the end of the ordeal, we get Tom DeLay back as Majority Leader and the comeuppance of a single Democratic prosecutor in Austin who no one had heard of before. The worst case scenario: DeLay is convicted, and his disgrace rubs off on everyone who stuck by him, seriously wounding Republicans at the polls next year.
That might be worth the risk it if DeLay were irreplaceable on the Hill, but he isn't. While his hardball tactics have produced some victories in the past -- notably in the Texas redistricting fight that moved several House seats into the R column -- lately he's worn out his welcome. Two weeks ago he generated peals of laughter from sea to sea when he said that "nobody has been able to come up with any" fat to cut out of the federal budget to offset post-Katrina rebuilding costs, and that "after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good." These are the words of a leader who is either boldly dishonest or who has simply lost touch with reality. I wrote last week about the good politics and good policy of efforts to prove DeLay wrong, including the Republican Study Committee's "Operation Offset."
The Prowler reported yesterday on the new AmSpecBlog that Roy Blunt, the temporary leader who is stepping in for DeLay, got his post in part because of gratitude within the RSC for Blunt's support for Operation Offset. DeLay, who The Prowler notes has made at least one sleazy power play against Blunt in the past, preferred David Dreier.
An RSC member tells The Prowler that there might be growing support within the Republican Caucus for making Blunt's leadership permanent, if he follows through on spending cuts. Let's hope this is true. On fiscal issues, DeLay has proven that he's all wet. Whether or not he's actually dirty, Republicans should let hang him out to dry.
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