It's always fascinating to see how a news meme migrates through the nation's dense ganglia of headline writers and copy editors. Rep. Chris Shays' (R) call for DeLay to resign is not that unexpected, for reasons we'll discuss momentarily. And Rick Santorum's comments on the Stephanopoulos show weren't quite as harsh in their totality as they read in the headlines.
The whole quote was ...
I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves. But from everything I've heard, again, from the comments and responding to those, is everything he's done was according to the law. Now you may not like some of the things he's done. That's for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior or not. But as far as the focus on him, I think clearly, when you have a leader of Tom DeLay's passion and Tom DeLay's effectiveness, you have a media that's very much going after him and tracking him and dogging him and trying to find what they can about him.
Still, Santorum's no fool. So he knew how those remarks would play in this volatile climate. For all the padding, the bottom line subtext is revealed in the first two sentences and into the third. <$Ad$> In so many words, Santorum says that the bugman is a sleaze, even if he may not have been so sloppy as to violate the law. And DeLay has to mount the pulpit before his constituents, confess his sleazy ways and hope they forgive him.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement and certainly out of step with the Bugman cult of personality David Keene, et. al. are trying to gin up.
("Bugman today, Bugman tomorrah, Bugman forevah.")
What I'm wondering is whether Chris Shays is a leading indicator in the judgment he seems to have made. Shays may be outspoken and independent. (After all, he spoke up about the DeLay Rule before it was cool.) But he ain't stupid. And I think his remarks yesterday and today, dropped like a big water balloon down on to the Sunday shows, reflects a judgment on his part that he can survive or DeLay can, but maybe not the both of them.
At a minimum his political survival now seems closely tied to define himself by his opposition to DeLay and the ultras in the House GOP caucus.
In the article in yesterday's Greenwhich Time on Shays' townhall meeting in which he called DeLay an embarrassment, this passage appeared ...
Town resident John Howard, 39, said he has supported Shays in the past and knows that the congressman is not a defender of DeLay. Even so, Howard said, he wouldn't continue to support Shays if he voted to keep DeLay in power.
"I was very proud of you for standing up to the Republican caucus," Howard said. "However, you do vote for the Republican leadership in Congress -- and you must know that you have a lot of constituents, like myself, who deeply respect you, and agree with you on many different issues -- but I can't vote for a congressperson who would vote to keep Tom DeLay in power. You must understand that he's a liability for you."
Shays had a pretty close call in November. The woman who gave him a run for his money is, I suspect, going to run against him again. And he's already showing signs of wilting in his support for private accounts. In swing districts in the Northeast next year it's hard to believe there won't be a strong anti-House majority tide. And the most obvious way for him to avoid getting swept up in that is to make himself the Republican who stood up to Tom DeLay.
I'm not saying it's all so clear cut or immediate or intentional in every respect. But the balancing act that Shays has played for years gets more difficult as the national politics grows more partisan and the House Republicans decline in popularity. And his own survival might depend heavily on being able to go into next year's election with a dynamite response to any opponent who tries to connect him to DeLay.