Tom DeLay is clearly thinking ahead and, at least on the surface, is encouraged by what he sees. Whether it's misplaced confidence or empty bravado, DeLay seems absolutely convinced that he's going to remain a powerful force in politics for the foreseeable future. It's probably the same arrogance that led him to ask, "What could possibly go wrong?" when Jack Abramoff invited him to go golfing in Scotland.
DeLay told Time, for example, "I can do more on the outside of the House than I can on the inside right now. I want to continue to fight for the conservative cause. I want to continue to work for a Republican majority. It's obvious to me over the last few months, I have tremendous support, not just in the 22nd District." He also told the Galveston News, "I can continue to be a leader of the conservative cause."
I realize that DeLay's been under quite a strain lately, but if he seriously believes he's going to be national conservative leader after he resigns from the House, he's in deep, deep denial.
For one thing, he's facing felony charges in Texas, and may soon be facing even more serious criminal charges in D.C. "Any rational person in his (DeLay's) position would be very concerned," said Kendall Coffey, a former federal prosecutor. Stanley Brand, a Washington lawyer who specializes in corruption cases, said the Tony Rudy plea deal "is just the beginning."
For another, DeLay seems confused about the source of his influence. He's been a right-wing hero, but it came as a result of his ability to leverage the power of his office. DeLay ran the House with a clenched fist, demanded party loyalty, and punished anyone who strayed or got in his way. But without an office from which to rule, DeLay is a former bug-spray salesman who was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace. It's not exactly the kind of development that launches a successful post-political career.
And lastly, there's no real evidence that anyone, anywhere, wants him to "lead the conservative cause."
Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), for example, said, "In this town, out of sight is out of mind. People fade very quickly once they're out of power. I think he'll fade."
LaHood isn't alone. Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation and a powerful conservative activist, didn't see any room for DeLay in the top ranks of right-wing leaders outside DC. "As an elected official, when he called conservatives together, he was in a position to do so," Weyrich said. "On what basis does he operate from the outside?"
DeLay, as a powerful House Majority Leader, found admiration from right-wingers everywhere. DeLay, as a former member of Congress who had to run away when things got tough, may find that his phone will ring a lot less.