Republicans Grabbing DeLay Tar Baby

In a move somewhat remniscent of then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s pronouncement that the country would have been better off had Strom Thurmond been elected president, Republican Members of Congress are rushing to issue warm statements about Tom DeLay as he readies for departure from the House. In both cases, the motivations behind the remarks are perfectly understandable in human terms but perfectly stupid politically.

Thurmond and DeLay were both good colleagues who made a lot of friends in their respective institutions and some throwaway comments about their great service to the country and their valued friendship is both understandable and even commendable. But given the inflammatory nature of both, there is simply a line that can not be crossed without peril. Yet, it is happening again:

“He has served our nation with integrity and honor, and I’m honored to call him my colleague and friend.” – Majority Leader John Boehner

“His leadership helped take our Republican conference and, as a result, our nation in a new direction, and I am confident that Tom’s legacy as one of the most effective Republican leaders in a generation is assured.” – Majority Whip Roy Blunt

“The hatred and relentless criticism of Tom DeLay breaks all records. He makes Newt Gingrich, Dan Quayle, and Bill Clinton look like their tenure in Washington was a honeymoon.” – Republican Conference Vice Chairman Jack Kingston

One does not exactly benefit from extolling DeLay’s integrity as the model for conservative Republicans.

Others were somewhat more judicious in their word choice. For example, NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds strikes the proper tone:

The House Republican Conference is losing a powerful conservative voice in Tom DeLay. I applaud Tom for over two decades of service to the Congress and to the people of Texas’ 22nd District.

Tom’s invaluable presence on the campaign trail will certainly be missed as we continue the battle to strengthen our House Republican Majority, but on this day, we celebrate him for time and again delivering on our party’s bold agenda of reform. To say Tom was a driving force in every key accomplishment of this Republican Congress is no understatement.

In all my years as an elected official, I have never seen a better vote counter than Tom DeLay. I continue to think of Tom as an inspiring leader and wish nothing but the best to him and his family.

This message pays proper homage to a lost friend — long service, strong leader, big ideas — without embracing the very things that caused his fall. I’m not sure that “I have never seen a better vote counter” is something I’d want on my tombstone but it’s likely true.

It’s decent and admirable to refrain from kicking a man to whom one owes a great deal while he’s down. But let’s not go overboard in extoling the man’s character, given that he has been censured by the Ethics Committee and is currently under indictment.

Update: For the most part, the Right Blogosphere is taking a decidedly different tone.

  • Glenn Reynolds: “I’m not sorry. His ‘no fat in the budget’ remark lost me, and I was never much of a fan.”
  • Ace: “For the best, I think. The guy may have been demonized by the media, but, like Nixon, he gave them a knife and they twisted it with relish.”
  • Jon Henke: “It’s always worth celebrating when another bad politician slides back down the greasy pole.”
  • Steven Taylor: “… a man who got far too caught up in the Us versus Them mentality of partisan competition to the point that he forgot his job was governing, not beating the Democrats.”
  • Sean Hackbarth is of a mixed mind: “No loss to me. He was a big-spending Republican.” Yet, “The short-term lesson is for local Democratic prosecutors to launch politically-motivated investigation of GOP Congressional leaders. If there’s some smoke, as in DeLay’s case, they just might force a few more into resigning.”
  • Stephen Green echoes my opening: “No biggie – I always got him confused with Trent Lott anyway.”

That’s not a universal reaction, of course. Hugh Hewitt, John Hinderacker, Danny Carlton, and others tow the party line. But they seem to be in the minority of the starboard side of the blogosphere.

Interestingly, people who know DeLay professionally seem to genuinely like him, whereas most who observe him from afar think he’s rather sleazy. I’m not sure how to account for that, other than that he’s probably a pretty decent guy when taken as a package whereas outsiders focus only on DeLay the politico.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael says:

    I know this likely won’t win me any fans on here, but should say I consider myself diametrically opposed to your political point of view. That said, I do enjoy reading your blog. While I may not agree with many (OK, most) of your opinions and reasoning, you almost always have well-thought arguments that allow for honest debate, and are pleasantly free of the usual partisan shrillness that can be found on blogs of both sides of the spectrum.

    I wanted to see the conservative reaction to DeLay’s resignation, and came here (among other blogs), and wanted to give you my take on the last question of your post – why people who know DeLay genuinely like him, as opposed to people who only know him from afar.

    I would think that any politician has an innate sense of charm and likability that would seem sincere and genuine to people who know them, and indeed, may actually be genuine. I doubt if they’d be successful politicians if they didn’t. Case in point, liberal blogger John (AmericaBlog) Aravosis recently met Katherine Harris and said she was extremely nice in person – and this from someone who would just as soon kick her in the shins as talk to her at a social event. he said the same about Newt Gingrich. This is not to say that DeLay, Gingrich and Harris are genuinely good people, or that they’re not (the same goes for charismatic Dems like the Clintons). Just that these people are professionals at what they do, which as politicians, one of those things is to get people to like them.

    Anyway, my two cents. Keep up the good work.

  2. McGehee says:

    Republicans Grabbing DeLay Tar Baby

    Yeesh, James! Next you’ll be telling us something is “niggardly!” Have you no shame?

  3. floyd says:

    chill, brer mcGehee,it’s an apt metaphor and nothing more. “uncle ream-us”[sic] aka “sam” should be proud!

  4. McGehee says:

    I know, Floyd — I was assuming (rightly, I’m betting) that James has heard about the elected official who’s gotten into hot water for for using the phrase “tar baby” in exactly the same way as James used it here.

    Hence my reference to “niggardly.” It was an irony supplement.

  5. floyd says:

    mcGehee; i understood,sorry, just adding may two “scents” P.U. i think they may have thrown T.Delay into the “briar patch” for punishment [if you get my drift,wink,wink, nudge nudge]