Several bloggers, including me, have made the point that DeLay knew or should have known he would be Enemy Number 1 for the Democrats and, therefore, should have been extra careful. Media reports of family members getting paid by PACs and other stories are not helpful. But, credit where credit is due, the Democrats have taken on a good strategy.
The DeLay attack has never really been about Tom DeLay.
Should the Democrats attack President Bush at this moment they would be seen as sore losers. Having lost the election to a vulnerable President and to have suffered crushing defeats in the Senate and lost, primarily through redistricting efforts, seats in the House, the Democrats could only hurt themselves by appearing spiteful. It is one thing to attack the President on policy issues, it is entirely something else and inappropriate to attack him in general to the masses (I’m not considering partisan attacks made to the base).
Instead, what the Democrats have done is rather smart. Tom DeLay is arguably the most effective Republican in the United States Congress. He is generally feared among the GOP, which breeds latent resentment and also breeds a loyal following of soldiers who will do what he wants. Under DeLay’s leadership of the Republican Caucus, more often than not, Republicans can marshall together the needed votes to push the President’s agenda forward. DeLay is also seen as rather conservative and is able to push the conservative agenda forward.
The media, always willing pawns in scandalmongering, have played into the hands of the Democrats. Having ample stories about DeLay’s alleged ethics problems, the Democrats have been able to target DeLay in a way that they cannot target the President. And, DeLay has played accomplice, though involuntarily, by giving off the appearance of scandal. Being lazy, the media has taken the Democratic spoon feeding of seemingly unseemly actions by DeLay and, energized on scandal in a time of scandal drought, run vigorously after DeLay. The GOP has been put in a defensive position — appearing to defend a corrupt politician (note: I’m not saying he is corrupt, just that he is being painted that way) — and it is harder to sell to the media while in a defensive position.
Politics can be a lot like football. When the ball gets thrown to one person all the time and that person is able to move the ball down the field, it is rather smart to concentrate on tackling that guy and, if his leg should get broken in the process, oh well. Right now DeLay is extremely effective at moving the Republican football and the Democrats are concentrating their efforts on tackling him and, hopefully, breaking his leg in the process to get him off field. Doing so would throw the GOP into chaos at a critical time on several issues, including social security.
The GOP needs two strategies to defeat what is really a Democratic plot to throw the GOP off its game — DeLay just happens to be the instrument of that plot. The GOP first needs to go on serious defense, if DeLay can be defended, and attack Democratic leaders for the same thing. If this gets turned into an “everybody does it” story, it will seriously mitigate damage done to DeLay and the GOP. If DeLay really has acted improperly, the GOP needs to both discipline DeLay and provide a succession plan. Make the transition to someone else smooth and quick.
No one really cares about Tom DeLay except partisans. Most people have never heard of Tom DeLay. But, if the Democrats can keep stories in the media about a corrupt Republican leader — and the media loves to keep scandals alive — the GOP will have a harder time putting out its reform message.
The DeLay attack has never really been about Tom DeLay. It’s been about drowning out the GOP’s talking points with a story of alleged impropriety by a member of the GOP. Scandal is more fun to cover than social security reform and, as a result, the President’s agenda gets pushed to page two while Tom DeLay stays on page 1.