It was not exactly a plum assignment for a Republican to go on network television to discuss the alleged foot-tapping ways of the soon-to-be former GOP senator from Idaho. But Republicans also could easily see the delight in the eyes of the liberal media when word of Sen. Larry Craig's Minneapolis airport arrest broke.
The press went right back to last year's smash-mouth Foleygate talking points about how this wasn't just about the moral turpitude of one member of Congress, but it was about the impending end of the Republican Party, and potential doom for American conservatism.
On Tuesday, NBC's "Today" show had opened with Matt Lauer asking, "Can the right wing withstand yet another scandal involving one of its own?" (Try imagining Matt Lauer, or any other network journalist out there, asking if "the left wing" could withstand yet another scandal after the breaking news of any one of the endless scandals revolving around Bill and Hillary Clinton.) Ann Curry chimed in, wondering, "How does this specter of hypocrisy affect the party?"
The "Today" show came knocking, looking for GOP interviewees for Thursday morning. Most Republicans locked and bolted their doors. Tom DeLay agreed -- and came out fighting.
A viewer could have developed whiplash watching NBC's two interviews with Republicans that morning. First, Curry pressed Rep. Peter Hoekstra. He'd stated that members of Congress should be above reproach and that a member of Congress pleading guilty to a crime ought to resign. She hit him for his "rush to judgment." Never mind that most everyone rushed to the judgment that Craig was guilty around the moment the news broke that Craig had pleaded guilty.
A few minutes later, it was DeLay's turn with Matt Lauer, and The Hammer fought back, something wholly unexpected from the Gloomy Old Party these days. Lauer came from a different angle, first listing Republicans caught in scandals (Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff, David Vitter), then concluding that almost no one wanted to vote for a Republican president now, and that as a result of a scandal-ridden GOP, the most popular Republican presidential candidate was "none of the above."
Unlike most Republicans who either take to the network airwaves with a look of fright, or worse, that awful congenial frozen smile, DeLay was clearly in a fighting mood. When Lauer wondered if these Republican sex scandals would tar the whole party or were just isolated "bad apples," DeLay ignored the question and got right to the point: "Well, I hate to say this Matt, but you just showed the problem, the double-standard, and you just participated in it. You listed a whole lot of scandals that involve the Republicans, but you didn't mention one Democrat."
Lauer was clearly unsettled by that answer and retorted, "But you didn't hear me." He repeated the question. Still DeLay would have none of it and continued pounding on Lauer's GOP-trashing premise: "If you had listed all the Democrats that are having problems right now, it would have been different. You see the Democrats re-elect the people with their problems. Republicans kick them out. If you look at what's going on, it's how you handle it as a party."
DeLay then turned to the unassailable specifics: "You have right now, Alan Mollohan, a congressman from West Virginia, who is being investigated by the FBI, and the Democrats have kept him on as chairman of the committee that has oversight of the budget of the FBI. You have William Jefferson -- "
Lauer was losing control of the interview and interrupted, trying to end DeLay's listing of Democratic scandals: "So, you're saying it's a positive thing. Is it a positive thing that the Republicans do this, they weed out immediately?" DeLay stood his ground "You don't want me to finish it?" he challenged. Lauer deferred: "No, no, go ahead."
DeLay continued: "Well, you have William Jefferson caught with $90,000 of marked bills in a freezer. And they did put him off the Ways and Means Committee, but they put him on a highly sensitive Homeland Security Committee." He added the old 1980s examples of Reps. Barney Frank and Gerry Studds, and could have added another dozen had the word "Clinton" been introduced into the conversation.
At one point Lauer claimed, "There was an awful lot of coverage of William Jefferson when that story broke, Congressman." I'm sure DeLay wishes he'd had this piece of data available in the memory banks: NBC's "Today" has never once aired an NBC reporter explaining the Jefferson scandal. All that's dribbled out are a few 50-word anchor-read droplets.
But no matter. DeLay didn't budge from the double-standard argument, and within hours was the toast of the conservative movement, as news of his performance spread like wildfire through the Internet and talk radio.
A few more confrontations like this, and the double-standard will end.