The Republican Party is a permanent majority for the future of this country. We’re going to be able to lead this country in the direction we’ve been dreaming of for years.” Tom DeLay spoke those words at his election night party on November 3, 2004. He certainly wasn’t the only one back then who thought Republican control of the White House and expanded majorities in Congress had ushered in an era of GOP hegemony.
Eighteen months later, as we head into a midterm campaign season in which Democrats stand to make substantial gains in Texas and Washington, it’s startling how much the contours of the political landscape have changed. Let’s start with the former House majority leader himself. DeLay, indicted on a first-degree felony charge in Texas, relinquished his leadership post last year and then resigned from Congress in June. The Texas GOP is furiously trying to pry DeLay’s name off the November ballot by convincing federal judges he no longer lives in the state. Meanwhile, the politician they once called “the Hammer” has been reduced to making empty threats—he recently told a crowd in Sugar Land, Texas, that if a federal appeals court forces him to remain on the ballot, he might just decide to re-enter the race against Democrat Nick Lampson. Nothing would make Democrats, or the press, happier.
At this point, a DeLay candidacy might be a bargain-bin affair. After all, he continues to drain his campaign account into his legal defense fund. And his once-prodigious fundraising network, DeLay Inc., lies in ruins. In early July, DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority PAC agreed to pay the Federal Election Commission a $150,000 fine, close its doors, and slip quietly into the night. Former donor and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former DeLay aide Mike Scanlon—who together swindled Indian tribes out of $82 million—and former DeLay aide Tony Rudy have copped pleas with Justice Department investigators and agreed to cooperate in the federal corruption probe.
At the same time, l’affair Abramoff has further sullied whatever remained of Ralph Reed’s reputation. The GOP consultant and former Christian Coalition chief had piously preached the evils of gambling while receiving Indian gaming money from Abramoff. In mid-July, Abramoff and Reed were named defendants in a lawsuit filed by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe in East Texas. The suit accuses them of racketeering and fraud in their effort to shutter the tribe’s casino to benefit Abramoff’s Indian clients. A week after the suit was filed, Reed’s dream of a career in elected politics came to a sudden end—he was trounced in the GOP primary for the Georgia lieutenant governor’s race. There’s so much more scandal we wanted to mention, but the amount of Republican corruption is too great to fit into this small space.
However, the one element of DeLay’s efforts to craft a lasting Republican majority that remains intact, though barely, is his redistricting plan. The GOP gained six U.S. House seats in 2004 from that gerrymandered congressional map, parts of which the U.S. Supreme Court recently found violate the Voting Rights Act. On August 3, a panel of three federal judges will hear oral arguments on how districts in South and Central Texas should be redrawn to comply with the court’s ruling. The makeup of Texas’ congressional delegation come January is anyone’s guess. They may even be serving under Democratic rule in the House. What we can say conclusively is that the Republican dominance that DeLay thought he had achieved that November night just 18 months ago—a majority built on cronyism and corporate money and rigidly right-wing Christian fundamentalism—is a dream whose time has passed.