It's a time-honored tradition in Washington that whenever someone gives you an explanation for something, you immediately start digging for the real reasons why. And so it is with the announcement that Tom DeLay will not seek reelection to represent Texas' 22nd Congressional District.
DeLay said today that the fight just wouldn't be worth it, that "liberal Democrats were trying to steal his seat with personal attacks..." and that while he is confident he would have prevailed, it would have been a nasty and expensive battle, and that he, not the issues, would be the story. While it's an open question whether DeLay would have won reelection, the rest is certainly true. But are those the only reasons?
DeLay's troubles -- the indictments, his forced ouster from the position of majority leader and swirling suspicions about his possible connections to Jack Abramoff -- had made him a lightning rod. Controversy is nothing new for DeLay. In fact, he often relishes it. But in an election year when Republicans are hyperventilating about the prospect of losing the House and Senate, anything that distracts from the issues on which they'd like to run is unwelcome. You'll notice that while Republicans said glowing things about DeLay today, not one publicly encouraged him to stay and fight.
DeLay swears he did nothing wrong in either the Texas case for which he is under indictment or the Abramoff scandal. But the latter hit very close to the bone last week when a former DeLay aide, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to conspiracy for his dealings with Abramoff. No surprise that people are wondering how much further the former lobbyist's tentacles reached into the halls of power.
DeLay's departure from the scene -- expected in late May or early June -- robs the Democrats of a potent arrow in their election year quiver. While all politics are local, Democrats were anxious to turn the battle for the 22nd District into a national issue by holding up DeLay as "poster boy" for what they call the Republicans' "culture of corruption." With DeLay off the stage, Howard Dean and company will be left to point to Randy "Duke" Cunningham as the national example of bad behavior. But Cunningham has already been sentenced. There's not much more to talk about there. An active investigation always makes better fuel for partisan attacks.
Any way you shape it, Congress won't be the same without the "Hammer." For some people, that's a good thing. But DeLay is one of those characters, who, love him or hate him, is a rich part of the American political process, one of those colorful figures whom history remembers. What is unclear at this point is what history will remember him for.