Two years after he resigned from the House, former Republican leader Tom DeLay says conservatives haven’t bottomed out from their 2006 election losses, Democrats are “cleaning their clock,” and it will take years before the Republican Party can compete with the operation Democrats have built.
“The conservatives refuse to accept that the left is cleaning their clock, and until you hit some bottom, wherever that is, to where it says, ‘Well, maybe we ought to do something different,’ little or nothing’s going to change,” Mr. DeLay told editors and reporters at The Washington Times last week.
“I think it’s going to take years to rebuild the party,” he said. “It is a party that will try to find itself as to what kind of party it is, and it will depend on what kind of leadership emerges from this rebuilding, as to what it ultimately is.”
The Texas Republican resigned from the House effective two years ago Monday, months after he gave up his position as House majority leader - a move he was forced to make after he was indicted in Texas on various campaign-finance and money-laundering charges. Some of those charges were thrown out in pre-trial appeals, and Mr. DeLay still has not gone to trial on the remaining ones.
He has spent the time since his resignation studying the way the liberal movement operates, and says it is far more adept under the new campaign-finance rules enacted in 2002, and championed by Sen. John McCain, the Republican’s presumptive presidential candidate.
Mr. DeLay said Democrats and their allies have mastered the art of using independent groups, while Republicans lag far behind, still focused on a party-based strategy that can’t compete.
“People out there that are making decisions are not focusing, in my opinion, on what it’s going to take to rebuild the conservative movement and rebuild the Republican Party. They’re living with 10-, 15-year-old technology. They still believe if you raise enough money, go on television enough, you’re going to win. Those days are over,” he said.
He is spearheading an operation to try to bring together grass-roots conservatives groups representing issues across the spectrum, from security to taxes to trade to social issues, but said it’s been slow going.
Mr. DeLay said he will vote for Mr. McCain for president, but said it’s unclear whether the presumptive nominee can win, and he said his wife, Christine, says she is planning to vote for Libertarian presidential nominee Bob Barr.
“I’m trying to convince my wife not to do it,” he said.
Mr. McCain, he said, is pursuing “a moderate Republican agenda,” but has been schizophrenic in his approach to conservative voters, and it’s hurting.
“On the one hand, he’s maybe telling himself, look, I won this nomination by appealing to people other than the base, so I know how to win. On the other [hand], his people are telling him, ‘No, you’ve got to have the base to win.’ So, OK, I’ll go do a speech on spending and the economy and be very conservative, and I’m going to appoint good judges, and then two days later, he goes and does a speech in Oregon on global warming, and a week later he announces he’s going to go give a speech to La Raza’s convention.”
Mr. DeLay also said he’s unsure whether it’s better for Republican rebuilding if Mr. McCain wins or loses in November. The party is already reeling from losing control of both the House and the Senate in 2006, with almost no prospect of reversing that this year. The Republican campaign committees are hoping only that they will lose no more ground.
“On the one hand, [Sen. Barack] Obama as president would be even better for building the party than when Clinton was president, in my opinion, because Obama, he can’t even think in terms of triangulation, much less going off the left to the right. I mean, it’s going to be a Marxist, socialist agenda and mind-set that’s got to help us,” he said.
But he said Mr. Obama “could set us back in this country 30 years with judicial appointments,” and said conservatives can work on some key issues such as “the war on terror, completely scrapping the tax code, winning the war against our culture.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Mr. DeLay:
*Said South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford should be Mr. McCain’s running mate because he’s “somebody the right will be excited about, but won’t upset the independents.”
*Questioned Republicans’ strategy of relying on big-dollar interest groups such as Freedom’s Watch, which has poured millions of dollars into boosting pro-Iraq war politicians, particularly Republicans.
“Freedom’s Watch goes into Mississippi, the special election, I think they spent $1.3 million in ads, and lost. No ground game in that $1.3 million, no door to door, no I.D.-ing the vote. That’s what it is, in a primary is, you go in and you I.D. your vote, and you turn out your vote.”
*Acknowledged some of his critics were right in saying he should have resigned his leadership post outright the day he was indicted, rather than just temporarily stepping aside. He said that set back House Republicans’ efforts to get reorganized, which hurt the efforts of his successor, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio.
*Explained his statement last week that Mr. Obama is a Marxist: “I’m a member of [the Second Baptist Church in Houston] because they reflect my values, my understanding of my faith, and I love listening to Ed Young preach because he is challenging me about the values that I hold dear. … The only thing I can assume in trying to analyze Barack Obama is, he was a member of a church for 20 years that believes in black-liberation theology, which everybody knows is a Marxist-humanist religion, preached, I assume, because it’s the worldview of the church, every Sunday.”
“If his values are the church’s values, then he must support black-liberation theology; therefore, he is a Marxist-humanist.”
*Said his first priority, even over helping rejuvenate the conservative movement, is to help Israel - something that was reinforced after his resignation, when he spent “about five weeks on my knees trying to figure out what was the right thing to do.”
“That’s what the Lord wants me to do,” he said. “I think you could say, and I’m very proud of the fact, that I was the No. 1 supporter of Israel in the House and the Senate.”
He offered criticism and advice for everyone from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to Mr. McCain to the current House Republican leadership.
When asked whether he’s been working with Mr. Gingrich, who would seem like a natural ally for Mr. DeLay’s organizational skills, Mr. DeLay said he hasn’t been able to do that yet.
“Newt’s into ‘solutions,’” Mr. DeLay said, making an exasperated facial expression. “‘Let’s do a poll, there’s a solution.’”
Mr. Gingrich has started American Solutions, an organization he says is dedicated to cutting through partisanship and pushing answers that polls say a large majority of voters can agree on, such as English as the nation’s official language, a simpler tax system and more spending on math and science education.
Mr. DeLay said he hopes that changes and at some point they do work together, but for now it’s emblematic of what he sees as a greater problem for conservatives.
“We should be, and someday I hope we are, but right now you can’t, and I’ve tried for over a year, to get different conservative organizations to work together and do things together,” he said. “Everybody’s doing their own thing. They’re all working in their silos.
“Nobody wants to talk to each other, much less work together,” he said.
During and after Mr. DeLay’s time in the House, several Republican lawmakers and top aides began serving prison terms after pleading guilty to corruption charges. Democrats made effective use of the problems, accusing Mr. DeLay of fostering a “culture of corruption.”
Mr. DeLay said he does not think his own image is hurting his causes - “I don’t care what my enemies say about me” - and said he won’t accept the charge that he oversaw a “culture of corruption,” until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “takes responsibility for the corruption in her party.”