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A Clue to DeLay's Resignation: Rosty

Chris Matthews gets the creativity award in his assessment of DeLay's resignation. In his blog, he writes, "President Bush's relentless drop in voter approval is making it impossible for troubled candidacies like DeLay's and Senator Rick Santorum's to "reverse the trend" in their constituencies."

This is an interesting argument. The anti-Bush political climate is so strong in places like the rock solid conservative Houston suburbs that DeLay had no choice but to resign. In other words, if Bush's job approval was 10% higher, the indicted DeLay would have stood a chance.

For somebody who worked on the Hill for so many years, it is interesting that Matthews does not really understand how the American public staffs it. The fact of the matter is that DeLay's resignation is a sign of the limitations of partisanship and the limitations of Bush's power. Bush won TX 22 by 20% more than he won the popular vote in 2000. In 2004, he won it by 13% more than his popular vote percentage. Matthews might find it hard to believe, but TX 22 is still Bush country. If anything, Bush is an asset to DeLay.

DeLay resigned because House elections are not not not referenda on the state of the nation. They are a referenda on the incumbent politician, and, on this front, DeLay was shooting craps. If House elections were proxies for the national debate, DeLay would have been in much better shape.

The parallels between Tom DeLay's 2006 and Dan Rostenkowski's 1994 are very telling. Rosty was the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and the representative from IL 05 -- the North Side of Chicago congressional district (currently held by DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel and where yours truly resides). In 1992 Clinton won IL 05 by 8% more than he won the national popular vote. In 1994 Rosty had been indicted, and decided to run anyway. Rosty's opponent was a 31 year old nobody named Michael Patrick Flannagan. Rosty spent $2.5 million (12.5 times more than Flannagan) and still lost by 8%. Why? How could such a solidly Democratic district vote out one of the House's most important Democrats? The indictment, of course! Congressional elections where the incumbent is running are not referenda on the state of the nation. They are a referenda on the incumbent. So, just as IL 05 was willing to vote out Rostenkowski for the way-too-conservative-for-his-district Flannagan, so DeLay (correctly) surmised that Sugar Land was ready to do the same to him.

So why did DeLay resign? Why not just take his chances? My theory is the following. He senses, correctly or incorrectly (I honestly have no opinion), that he can beat Ronnie Earle's charges. This means he has a future in politics. He also senses that he would lose this election, or at least he senses that the possibility is very good. If he loses the election, his political future is put into jeopardy even with a courtroom win - political losers in this nation have a taint that is difficult to rub off. Resign now; beat the charges, live to fight another day. It is the smart move.