The Magazine

DeLay, Red Statesman

From the April 25, 2005 issue: Why his enemies are desperate to bring him down.

Apr 25, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 30 • By JEFFREY BELL
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Since the 2000 election and the accompanying Red State/Blue State polarization, Red State conservatives have grown in strength in tandem with the alternative Red State media: talk and Christian radio, conservative bloggers, Fox News, and all the rest who have put older, Blue State media on notice that they are no longer capable of unilaterally defining the national debate.

DeLay is the most important of a small but growing group of conservative leaders who are willing and able to operate without permission or praise from Blue State media. The fact that Hastert, DeLay, and their allies have maintained unbroken operational control of the House, never losing a significant floor vote in the four-plus years since Bush became president, has (to put it mildly) opened the door for other ambitious leaders to consider doing the same, either on selected issues or across the board.

If DeLay goes down because of overseas trips and/or fundraising practices that have never caused the slightest political problem for anyone else, the lesson to other Red State leaders will be clear. The four-year House winning streak, so widely taken for granted among conservatives, will not long survive DeLay. That is why Democrats and Blue State media (despite some half-hearted efforts to depict DeLay as a GOP albatross) so fervently desire his career to end as soon as possible.

As he begins his effort to force the Senate to permit a majority to approve new conservative judges--inevitably to culminate in a Supreme Court nomination fight--Bill Frist will soon have to choose whether, like DeLay, to operate on the Red State side of the divide, expecting and getting no praise from older Blue State media. If Frist does so successfully, he is in the game to succeed President Bush as the Red State candidate. If he fails or turns aside, the Blue State media will dislike him less, but his presidential hopes will almost certainly be history.

Jeffrey Bell is a principal of Capital City Partners, a Washington consulting firm.