- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

This has been a trying week for Republicans. A Texas grand jury indicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on a charge of conspiring to channel corporate contributions to Republican candidates for the state legislature, a violation of the Texas Election Code. Mr. DeLay says he did not participate in the exchange of “soft” money for “hard,” and in any event it was not against the law in 2002. The indictment, Mr. DeLay says, is retribution by Ronnie Earle, the Democratic district attorney of Travis County, Texas, for the successful Republican takeover of the state legislature. Mr. Earle has, in fact, earned a considerable reputation for partisan zealotry.

The proceedings will sort all this out. The immediate consequence is that Mr. DeLay must step down as majority leader under rules set out by the Republican caucus in the House. Whether he returns as majority leader is uncertain.

The man that Republicans elected, late on Wednesday, as their new leader is a solid conservative. The election of Roy Blunt of Missouri, in fact, was a victory for the conservatives because the party leadership wanted to install David Drier of California, a “moderate” conservative, and acquiesced only after conservatives threatened a messy revolt.

Mr. Blunt’s 94 percent positive rating by the American Conservative Union ought to reassure these House conservatives. He is further a skilled operator — though the man he succeeds, if only temporarily, defines “skilled operator.”

In the medium and long-term, the significance of the DeLay indictment has less to do with the particulars of the case than with the possibility that it could wreck the Republican legislative agenda. Since he became majority leader almost three years ago, he has been the glue that holds that agenda together. He has pressed (some say “intimidated”) wavering Republican colleagues on close votes and enforced party discipline. Without him, many of President Bush’s signature initiatives — the prescription-drug bill, for example — likely would have been defeated. This has meant certain tradeoffs — in many cases, Mr. DeLay traded vote discipline for pork, and bears considerable responsibility for ballooning federal budgets — but Mr. Bush owes Mr. DeLay a considerable debt.

It falls to Mr. Blunt, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the rest of the Republican Congress to keep the Republican agenda alive. Voters have validated that agenda by repeatedly sending more Republicans to the House, Senate and the presidency. The Republican leadership must resist the well-known Republican temptation to flinch. The Democrats remain without any substantive ideas of note. Their hopes for success in November 2006 hinge on atmospherics and the current GOP problems. The best Republican antidote is a forcefully articulated Republican agenda.

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