Republicans should not sleep well at night. The party has achieved comfortable majority status just when it seems to have lost its animating vision. And when parties exist merely to maintain themselves in power, corruption soon follows.
There may well be less than meets the eye in the Jack Abramoff scandal -- time will tell. But the perception of corruption can be devastating. Newt Gingrich's 1994 triumph was propelled in no small measure by the perception of Democratic corruption -- the House bank scandal, the Rostenkowski indictment, Speaker Jim Wright's forced resignation, Tony Coehlo's junk bond deal. There were other matters (HillaryCare, gays in the military), but clean government was arguably a key factor.
If Republicans gaze north of the border to Canada, they see another entrenched majority that was just ousted. Thanks in part to a kickback scandal involving Liberal politicians in Quebec, the Conservatives achieved victory for the first time in 12 years. This, in a country where Ted Kennedy would be a centrist.
So, yes, Republicans had better get on the reform bandwagon. By all means end the unsavory practice of accepting lavish trips and sports tickets from lobbyists. More substantively, a move to eliminate earmarking -- if it reduces government bloat -- is all to the good.
But more than scandal should trouble Republican sleep. They can stamp out the scandal flames on their skirts but still be crushed by the collapsing roof if they don't take care of the deeper problem. That deeper problem is their raison d'etre.