In most political scandals, the crucial point at which criticisms become a real danger is not based on the growing number of critics, but rather it's the point at which the defenders begin to defect. As Tom DeLay's situation becomes more desperate and some Republicans become emboldened to openly criticize him, expect his defenders to arrange for big public displays of support. The coming public declarations of loyalty are not a meaningless ritual. The serve the very real functions of applying peer pressure to wavering Republicans and making an appeal to the jury of public opinion. By making enough noise, they hope to out shout the critics and portray them a minority of bitter losers.
Of course, testimonies of confidence and support aren't DeLay's only tool to fend off scandal. He's doing his best to distract us with Terri Schiavo and the horrible threat of activist judges. He's denying any wrong-doing. He's refusing to discuss the issue. He's crying conspiracy and persecution. And when none of that works, he's using that old favorite, "everyone else was doing it."
How well is it working?
People who are working in support of DeLay's position said the next several days would be critical, as leaders wait to see whether any other House Republicans call for his resignation. Last weekend, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who has long feuded with the majority leader, called for DeLay to step down.
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said members are standing by DeLay. "We know we're under attack," he said. "It's a scorched-earth policy."
DeLay's defenders continued to galvanize national conservative groups on the outside while blaming Democrats on the inside. Allies coordinated appearances on talk radio stations, and supporters were given talking points detailing the number of trips taken by Democrats.
This coverage makes it look about even and they might be right. To political junkies, DeLay looks doomed. But he'll only really be doomed if the greater public becomes aware of him. Most people outside Washington and Texas don't know who he is. This could work either way for him. If he can hunker down and outlast our attention span, we will eventually be distracted by other things and forget his problems. On the other hand, if we can push his problems onto the national front page, most people who had never heard of him will gain a first impression of him as someone involved in some kind of sleaze or another. Then we can hang him around the neck of the whole Republican party and run against him in every congressional district in the country.
As a side note, look again at the quote from David Dreier above. Does he even know what "scorched-earth" means? He seems to think it describes destructive behavior by DeLay's critics. Does Dreier realize that "scorched-earth" is a defensive policy? It means he and DeLay plan to destroy everything rather than let the enemy (liberals, Democrats, "the media," judges) gain any advantage. The historical parallel he's drawing is of the last days of the Third Reich. He's placing DeLay in fuehrerbunker in the role of you-know-who (that makes Dreier's role either that of Eva Braun or Blondi, Hitler's dog). That can't be what he intended. I suppose Dreier is just another chickenhawk displaying his complete ignorance of things military.