The new race to replace Pete V. Domenici, the fourth Republican senator to announce retirement in the past month, offers a cautionary tale for the GOP. The longtime senator from New Mexico has been dogged by allegations that he applied improper political pressure on the U.S. attorney in his state. But don't expect the scandal to fade with his retirement.
New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson is considered the leading Republican in the race to replace Domenici, but she may face similar scrutiny, as she was also involved in the U.S. attorney firing episode. Neither politician has come clean about a role in the scandal -- the norm for today's GOP.
Despite years of corruption, including a glut of vote-buying, defense graft, lobbyist bribery and campaign spending abuse, the party usually refuses to take responsibility or clean house.
Can you think of a single prominent Republican who has even talked tough -- let alone taken action -- to combat all the recent corruption?
The rare times that Republicans have confronted their colleagues' lawbreaking, they have been driven more by holding power than by holding power accountable. Leaders complained when Idaho Sen. Larry Craig tried to get to first base with another man, sensing an electoral liability, but they've been silent about Louisiana Sen. David Vitter's confessed involvement with the "D.C. Madam."
The midterm elections offered a watershed rejection of the GOP, on a par with the 1994 "revolution," as even Republican strategists like Rich Lowry concede. Voters rejected incumbent Republicans last year primarily because of corruption and Iraq. (The 2006 exit polls actually found more voters prioritized corruption than Iraq, terrorism or the economy.) The public rightfully expects politicians to respond to such a clear referendum.
That means there is a political opportunity here for ambitious Republicans, particularly presidential candidates, to contrast their vision with the corruption that continues to hinder their party's success.
Just imagine the next big state party convention if a candidate, after all the red-meat pandering, actually confronted the elephant in the room....
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