Is the GOP Heading for the Tall Grass Again?

“I can’t spare this man, he fights.”

So Abe Lincoln responded to critics of Gen. Grant, whose hard drinking was said to be scandalizing the Union cause.

Whatever may be said of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, he has fought more tenaciously for GOP principles, as he understands them, and for his party than any congressmen in the memory of this writer.

And because he is a Christian conservative and cultural warrior who has liberal scalps on his office wall, the Liberal Establishment and Big Media loathe him and mean to take him down. Whether they succeed will depend on the GOP on Capitol Hill and President Bush.

But, given how Republicans cut and ran on Trent Lott — when that Senate leader was enduring the death of a thousand cuts from pundits for the felony of having offered a birthday toast to Sen. Strom Thurmond, telling the 99-year-old Strom he would have made a great president — Tom DeLay has cause to be concerned. He is today the most controversial man in a party with a weak reputation for retrieving its wounded.

Already, the Wall Street Journal has put its nail file between his shoulder blades and urged the GOP to abandon him. While the GOP caucus seems to be holding firm, DeLay has few vocal defenders.

Of what does he stand accused? He put his wife and daughter on his campaign staff, for pay. But, so what? Robert F. Kennedy ran JFK’s campaign, a practice common in politics.

It is said that trips abroad by DeLay and his family were paid for by nonprofit organizations. But this, too, is common practice. Junket is a synonym for “co-del,” which is short-hand for congressional delegations traveling overseas on “fact-finding” trips that tend to occur in batches at Christmas, Easter and any other time Congress takes a break from its Herculean labors.

Eighteen news organizations have not assigned reporters to the “DeLay story” because they are morally offended by the idea his family worked on his campaign or he has gone on trips paid for by nonprofits. If every member of Congress who ever traveled abroad on someone else’s credit card were to be driven from office, you could not get a quorum in either House. You might have trouble putting together a softball team.

No, the Left is after DeLay because — on tax cuts, right-to-life and reigning in renegade jurists — he is relentless. He is not an old-school Republican who votes right, then heads for the first tee at Burning Tree. And when it comes to raising cash from lobbyists and fat cats for the GOP to wage war against the Democratic Party, few have it down to a science like “the Hammer.” Like Gen. Grant, the Hammer has a reputation for inflicting heavy causalities, which is why the left wants him gone.

But why is the right letting him twist in the wind?

In Texas in 2004, half a dozen Democratic congressmen, with a full century of seniority among them, lost their seats because DeLay persevered in redrawing their districts. He, the governor and the legislature ensured that African-American and Hispanics got their share of the seats under the Voting Rights Act. Then, they redrew the remaining districts to give the Caucasian liberals the Alamo treatment. But the massacre was no different than what the Burton brothers did, in redrawing districts in California, to the Golden State’s GOP. It’s called hardball.

What gave new energy to the “Get DeLay” campaign by the mainstream media and was the majority leader’s role in trying to win a reprieve for Terri Schiavo from the death sentence imposed by Judge George Greer. In that 14-day ordeal, the U.S. courts, though empowered by Congress to intervene and review the order to deny Terri food and water, unto death, elected to play the role of Pontius Pilate.

When she died, DeLay raged that Congress “for many years has shirked its responsibility to hold the judiciary accountable. No longer. We will look at an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at the Congress and president when given jurisdiction to hear this case anew and look at all the facts. … The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

Equating this threat to punish the judges and curb judicial power with a threat of violence, Sen. Edward Kennedy called the words “irresponsible and reprehensible.” “At a time when emotions are running high, Mr. DeLay needs to make clear that he is not threatening anyone with violence.”

Under fire, DeLay has backed away from his words. But if his friends back away from him, they will be behaving both cravenly and foolishly. For the enemies of Tom DeLay are after larger game than taking down a majority leader. They want to demonize DeLay’s ideas, abort his agenda and neuter his party. If Republicans can’t see this, they lack the instincts to survive long as America’s majority party.