Exterminate Thyself

Decoding Tom DeLay’s exit interview.

Tom DeLay, exit stage right

Tom DeLay’s resignation from Congress may have been a surprise, but how he’s going out isn’t. In his interview with Time magazine, the former House majority leader announced his departure with all the clamor, confrontation, and pride we’ve come to expect from him. We can only hope that when it’s all over, the former exterminator will have thrown out a few Scalia-like salutes to the press and Democrats he so openly loathes. Here are a few highlights from the exit interview:

Why he left. Asked to explain why he was dropping out of his race against Nick Lampson, DeLay told Time, “I feel like it’s a referendum on me.” The House Republican campaign strategy for 2006 is to de-nationalize the election: Discourage voters from focusing on the president and majority party’s record (and their dismal approval ratings) and appeal to them instead at the personal, local level by focusing on specific candidates. This is a smart strategy. People may hate Congress in principle, but they generally like their own member of Congress, which is why incumbents get re-elected at such ridiculously high rates. DeLay was all set to go the incumbent route in 2006, winning back a seat on the powerful appropriations committee and boasting about the highway projects he has brought home for his district. But such a me, me, me, strategy doesn’t work well when you’re the candidate Democrats are trying to chain to every other Republican.

His new life. GOP candidates for the 2008 presidential nomination can start sucking up now. Though DeLay says he doesn’t want to pick the Republican who will run for his open seat in the 22nd district of Texas, he does want to become a kingmaker after that. In addition to devoting time to his foster-care organization Rio Bend, DeLay is also anointing himself the boss of the conservative cause. “The conservative movement is leaderless and we need a strong leader to pull the movement together, and I want to go out there and try to do that,” he says. Heads up, you 2008 presidential candidates: Die-hard conservatives like Tom DeLay. Presidential candidates need support from die-hard conservatives. You do the math. (Hint: The former majority leader loves golf.)

Jesus is my political strategist. After he was indicted on conspiracy and money-laundering charges, DeLay smiled like a choirboy for his mug shot. The move was a political masterstroke since the picture looked better than many of his official photographs. But DeLay explains that his smile wasn’t motivated by politics at all. He was wrapped in Christ. “I said a little prayer before I actually did the fingerprint thing, and the picture. And my prayer was basically: ‘Let people see Christ through me. And let me smile.’ Now, when they took the shot, from my side, I thought it was the fakiest smile I’d ever given. But through the camera, it was glowing. I mean, it had the right impact.” So, the impact of the picture was that people would see the humility, forgiveness and generosity of Christ? Perhaps, but DeLay explains that by “right impact,” he means the picture allowed him to shove it in his opponent’s kazoo. “Poor old left couldn’t use [the picture] at all. They had all kind of things planned, they’d spent a lot of money. It made me feel kind of good that all those plans went down the toilet.” Usually when Christ and the commode are used in back-to-back sentences, social conservatives mount a protest.

Governing philosophy. Republicans trying to keep their majority after 11 years in control rattle off a list of supposed accomplishments: They’ve boosted the economy by cutting taxes, made America safer, and made government more responsive to the needs of the common man. Whatever. DeLay gets most excited when he talks about having destroyed Democratic lobbyists on K Street and replaced them with Republican ones. “We’ve tried to change the culture of Washington, D.C., and  do it legally and ethically. The Democrats hate the fact that their culture of K Street has been changed from a totally dominated Democrat K Street [lobbying community] to a totally dominated Republican K Street. Nothing illegal about that at all. And we built that. When we took over in 1995, the K Street contributions to elections was 70/30—70 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republican. Today it’s 60/40—60 percent Republican and 40 percent Democrat. That’s a change in culture.” Federal prosecutors couldn’t agree more.

Frequent flyer. Bring on the private planes. “I did the commercial route when I was running in 1994,” said DeLay about his use of planes owned by tobacco companies and other special interests. “I think I did about 89 districts the whole year. If I’d done it by private plane, I could have tripled the number of districts. And that’s why we started using private planes, instead of going commercial and doing one event in one district per day, you can hit three districts in one day. And you can really knock ‘em out doing what is important, and that is electing conservatives to Congress.” Yes, and sometimes the planes helped him get to pricey resorts, too.

And maybe this could go on his statue? “Yes, I play golf. I’m very proud of the fact that I play golf.”