By now you’ve heard that Rep. Tom DeLay is stepping down from his leadership post.
This move comes the day after a petition calling for leadership elections was circulated by some Republican Members of Congress. They were aided by some bloggers and pundits who began speculating that it was time for a new majority leader.
The question is, will this move help or hurt Republicans?
In some cases (as was the case when Speaker Hastert replaced Speaker Gingrich), installing a less controversial leader can change the tone. But more often than not (as was the case when Trent Lott was forced out of his leadership position), concessions don’t work. The attacks are simply re-directed toward the less-prepared Republican successor.
So which result do I predict?
This a mid-term election year and Democrats will try to make this their campaign theme to win back the House. Democrat leaders like Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi don’t merely want to bring down one man — they want a Democrat majority.
President Bush understands the importance of having someone like Tom DeLay as majority leader to push his votes through the House, and he recently said so publicly. But it appears to me that many conservative activists and bloggers haven’t fully appreciated DeLay’s ability as majority leader. Some naive Republicans may even be tempted to assume that any Republican Congressman can readily step into his shoes. Wrong.
Leadership is not a title or a position. Assigning someone the title majority leader does not grant them respect, influence, competence, persuasiveness, expertise, or authority (the skills needed to be an effective Majority Leader.)
Some quixotic conservatives may even be excited at the possibility of replacing DeLay with another conservative. Sadly, there is no correlation between leadership and philosophy. There are bumbling conservatives, just as there are highly competent communists.
At this time, the Republican bench has future leaders, but none well suited to step into DeLay’s shoes. Simply put, replacing DeLay as Majority Leader is like trying to replace Michael Jordan on your basketball team.
Rep. DeLay’s willingness to step down at this time is noble. In the short term, his stepping aside may help Republicans re-focus. But Republicans, in the long run, will miss having such an effective leader.