Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has rejoined the fray, regaining his seat on the American Conservative Union/Conservative Political Action Conference board, taking up the sword against the progressiveism of Democrats and battling what the Texan says is the wimpishness of his fellow Republicans.
Mr. DeLay, 67, still flashes the intensity that was his trademark as one of Congress‘ most feared enforcers. But he insists his fall from power, the humbling experience of being indicted and the relief of being acquitted by a court after an eight-year legal battle have changed him.
“I used to think I was always right,” he told The Washington Times in his most extensive interview since his acquittal last fall. “You know, power makes you arrogant, if you’re not careful. But, I’ve, I’ve walked with the Lord.”
That’s not to say he has forgotten all of the friends who fled during his crisis. Nor has it dimmed his ambition to return the national debate to smaller government, less spending, less regulation, lower taxes and more adherence to constitutional principles.
Since then, about the most visibility he has had was his stint on the popular television show “Dancing With the Stars,” until three grueling weeks of practice took its toll on his lower limbs and forced him to drop out of the contest.
Getting forced out is nothing new to the former owner of a bug exterminating business in Sugar Land, Texas — still his home.
Mr. DeLay resigned as House majority leader and as an ACU board member in 2005 and did not seek re-election to the House in 2006.
His House Republican colleagues told him not to show his face on Capitol Hill. They feared that Texas District Attorney Ronnie Earl’s accusation that Mr. DeLay was a money-laundering politician would give Republicans a bad name.
Those setbacks and the tribulations that followed, including the $12 million in legal defense fees he incurred, took their toll.
He described his ordeal as “the beginning of criminalization of politics. That’s what [Democrats] do.”
He paused for breath, then turned to his own party.
“The worst part about it is the Republicans won’t do anything about it because they have no backbone,” he said.
A trial judge in Texas convicted Mr. DeLay of violating election laws and handed him a three-year prison sentence. Before the trial began, the Democratic judge had publicly pronounced the former House majority leader guilty as charged, Mr. DeLay said.
Then something happened that Republicans, in their zeal to distance themselves from their former leader, never expected.
A few months ago, a Texas appeals court panel fully acquitted Mr. DeLay in what amounted to a rebuke of the trial court judge.
Mr. DeLay’s agony echoes that of Reagan administration Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, who was indicted on fraud charges in 1987 in a highly publicized case. After his acquittal, he asked bitterly, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?”
Yet Mr. DeLay sees his ordeal with the Texas criminal justice system differently.
“I personally don’t feel like I lost my reputation,” he said. “I know who I am. I know what criminalization of politics is all about. I accepted that challenge some 17 years ago when [former House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and the other Democrats announced publicly that they were going take me out in 1996, with my first ethics charges that were dismissed.”
But Mr. DeLay’s legal travails aren’t over. His acquittal is being appealed, and he still has major legal bills.
“I’m not a wealthy man, but I’m raising the money,” he said. “I still have a huge, huge following and people that support me. This whole thing has cost me $12 million.”
As for how he has been able to raise that much money over so many years, he shrugged and replied, “I’ve been asking friends to contribute to the Tom DeLay Trust Fund; 800 Commerce Street, Houston, Texas,” he said.
Even after a long absence from the political spotlight, Mr. DeLay is uncomfortable hearing himself described as resurgent.
“I’m really not looking for a resurgence of Tom DeLay,” he said. “I haven’t been sitting at home, whining and crying in my beer about what’s going on.”
He said the journey has made him a better human being and a better husband and father because it has made him less arrogant.
“In 1985, I came to Congress and I was the most self-centered, arrogant jerk that you can imagine — drank too much, everything was all about me,” he said. “I was the center of my universe.”
He acknowledged that he remains a work in progress.
“It takes a long time to take an arrogant person like me and make him a humbled man.”
Many fellow conservatives, he said, are still wary of him for pushing through President George W. Bush’s bill to provide prescription drug coverage through Medicare. Many conservatives consider it the biggest expansion of welfare since Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty.
Mr. DeLay rejects the criticism. “Yeah, well, they’re absolutely wrong,” he said. “It’s not a government-subsidized nor a government program.”
He also defends Mr. Bush, who became a target of scorn among conservatives.
“I don’t give him kudos for TARP — the bailout of Wall Street and the car companies — but he deserves more credit,” Mr. DeLay said. “Unfortunately, it’s the Republican/conservatives that are trashing the real history of the Bush administration because they can advance their own political careers by trashing Republicans.”
Whether his fellow conservatives will judge that as arrogance, loyalty to the former president or his trademark plain-spokenness will be determined in part by how well a resurgent Mr. DeLay can make his case.