Thursday, September 29, 2005

JOHN DICKERSON AT SLATE thinks that Democrats and liberals might be feeling a bit schizophrenic about Tom DeLay's indictment.

Democrats seemed delighted today when Tom DeLay had to step down as majority leader after the announcement of his indictment on a charge of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws. The Texan and his GOP colleagues had anticipated today's indictment, and last November they tweaked the House ethics rules so that when the grand jury spoke, DeLay would still be able to keep his leadership post. But after a public outcry, Republicans were shamed into reversing that clubby rule change. So today, DeLay was forced to take his medicine and step down. Score one for the minority!

Except that Democrats would have to be nuts to root for DeLay's scalp, something many of them admit in private. He's the best villain they'll ever have. DeLay's got troubles hanging from him like charm bracelets. Not only does he have the Texas mess, but he's been knocked three times by the House ethics committee for misusing his post, and he's been closely linked to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. At the level of personality, he positively oozes meanness, making him a perfect foil for Democrats. His poll numbers have been tanking. And now he's under indictment. DeLay makes an even more potent symbol bookended by Senate Majoriy Leader Bill Frist, who is having his own ethical inquiries into his stock sales.

And what about Republicans?

When DeLay goes zany like this, you'd expect Republicans to move toward the exits. I mean, isn't a man that brash and full of scandal a liability? Not for Republicans. The party supported DeLay as it has time and again. "Everyone up here is rallying big time," said one senior House staffer. "Congressman DeLay is a good ally, a leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "I think the president's view is that we need to let the legal process work."

Why do they stick with him? Because they think he'll be back, and he has a long memory. Tom DeLay is revered by both Republicans and Democrats as the best inside player in the House of Representatives. He knows who has helped him and who has not. He also knows how to make you pay if you're in the latter category.

Then again, there are those who think some Republicans are secretly cheering at the prospect of DeLay's demise -- on the theory that if it's good for Democrats it must be bad for Republicans.

I can think of at least one or two Republicans who are privately doing the Myposian Dance of Joy over this news. If he goes, there goes the biggest target the Democrats have had for the mid-terms since Newt Gingrich. And some people in his own party just think he's a jerk.

Watch for the next episode, and pay close attention.

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