Thursday, September 06, 2007

Larry Craig vs. The GOP--A battle of CYA

I've been going through my posts and the news reports on the Larry Craig scandal, and it struck me that both Senator Larry Craig and the GOP are locked into their own little battle here--a battle to see which can cover their own political asses before the 2008 elections. What is so ironic is that the CYA of Senator Craig is completely incompatible with the CYA of the Republican Party.

I'm going to start first with Senator Craig. Back in June, Craig was arrested for "lewd conduct" in a Minneapolis airport men's room. Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. The irony here was that Senator Craig was a strong "family values" senator, while at the same time hunting for gay sex in an airport restroom. When Roll Call published the story, the crap hit the fan. Now here is where it gets interesting. Craig was caught soliciting for sex in the men's room. He pleaded guilty in the hope that the conviction would stay quiet. When the Roll Call story came out, Craig had to adopt a more aggressively defensive PR-campaign to counter the notion that the conservative, "family values" senator was not gay. Hence, the big press conference where Craig emphatically states, "I am not gay!" The key point to remember is that Senator Larry Craig is fighting for his political life here. Craig knows that if he resigns, his political career will be destroyed, as Mark Foley's was with the email sex scandal. Craig had no intention of going out the way Foley did. That is why you saw Senator Craig's "intent" to resign speech and his wrong number answer machine recording revealing the entire Craig defense strategy. Craig wants to overturn his Minnesota conviction so that the guilty plea never happened. If he's successful, then Craig can triumphantly state that he has been vindicated and that the Idaho conservatives can finally understand that Senator Craig has never been gay--he is still the "family values" senator. So Craig is giving himself a month to overturn his guilty plea here. And it doesn't matter whether Craig succeeds or not, the scandal will continue to be in the news until the end of September, or until Craig actually resigns from the Senate. This is Senator Larry Craig's CYA here.

And it is a complete polar opposite of the Republican Party's CYA. The Republican Party has an image problem here with too many scandals involving their own political party members. Consider this August 29, 2007 TPM Muckraker story by Paul Kiel:

Jack Abramoff is in prison. Ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) is in prison. Ex-Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) is in prison. Ex-Reps. Mark Foley (R-FL), Katherine Harris (R-FL), Tom DeLay (R-TX), Curt Weldon (R-PA), and Ex-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), all either lost or did not seek reelection. Gone, away, to be forgotten. This year was supposed to be different for the Republicans. But...

As The New York Times notes this morning, scandal has pursued them into 2007. “The real question for Republicans in Washington is how low can you go, because we are approaching a level of ridiculousness,” says one Republican strategist.

So what's the tally this year so far? Well, there is, of course, 1) Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and 2) Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) with their sex scandals (the attempted restroom tryst and numerous successful hotel room trysts, respectively).

But then there's the much greater toll of just plain ol' corruption. 3) Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and 4) Rep. Don Young (R-AK) are under investigation for their ties to the oil company Veco (though that's just the tip of the iceberg for Young). 5) Reps. Tom Feeney (R-FL) and 6) John Doolittle (R-CA) have found themselves the focus of a reinvigorated Abramoff investigation (though Abramoff is in prison, he's still busily cooperating). 7) Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) had his house raided. 8) The FBI is investigating Rep. Gary Miller's (R-CA) land deals.

And then there's 9) Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) whose land deal with a businessman and campaign contributor became such a scandal that she finally just sold back the plot of land.

For the GOP, it is all about the "Culture of Corruption" that has stained this party for the past couple of years--perhaps for the entire Bush administration, when you consider the Iraq war, Scooter Libby, Valerie Plame, Gonzo, and the U.S. Attorney scandal. The GOP would like nothing more than to have these scandals disappear from the headlines, and hope that the scandals will not continue to erode public support for the Republican political candidates in the 2008 elections. And that is the second problem that the Republican Party has--eight years of a failed Bush presidency has also weakened the Republican Party. When you have a Republican President who is sitting at around 30 percent job approval rating at the polls, it is going to be tough to find a successor who can convince the conservative and evangelical American voters to continue to vote Republican. And it is going to be even more tough if you have a Republican senator who is not just embroiled in a sex scandal, but a gay sex scandal, to keep the evangelical Republicans from staying home in 2008, rather than voting for the GOP. So for the Republican Party's best interest, it is better to get rid of this Senator Craig sex scandal as quickly as possible. That is why you saw GOP congressmen and the RNC demanding Craig's resignation, even as Craig was trying to mount his own public defense on this scandal. Because the longer this scandal stays in the media headlines, the more it cements the Republican Party to the "Culture of Corruption" stain. The Republican Party is only interested in its own CYA. And in order to do so, the Party is more than happy to throw Craig overboard, even as their own ship is sinking and all the GOP politicians are doing is rearranging the deck chairs.

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