A couple of days ago, Tom Delay announced he would resign his Texas seat in Congress by June. His announced departure from office has induced the normal Washington hypocrisies. Democrats express delight but are actually disappointed, as his Texas congressional seat is more likely to now stay Republican and they won't have Tom Delay to kick around anymore.
Republicans express sorrow, but are actually relieved not to have him as an albatross around their party neck. And as someone who has crossed paths (and sometimes swords) with Tom ever since I started as Newt Gingrich's press secretary in 1990, I am of mixed feelings.
I first met him in early 1990, just after Newt had been elected Republican minority whip in the House of Representatives. Tom had been doing the vote counting for Newt's opponent, Illinois Congressman Ed Madigan -- the candidate of the old Republican House establishment. Newt was -- as always -- the insurgent candidate.
Tom Delay had come to make up with Newt after picking the losing side. Tom offered his loyalty in good faith, and Newt accepted it in good faith. They had never been close, but they were both smart conservative congressmen with common policy and party goals. Tom became an invaluable political ally and warrior for the Newt-led insurgent House Republicans.
Five years later, when Newt was sworn in as Speaker of the House, Tom Delay became the majority whip and a vital part of the successful election and legislative team that emerged in 1994. But Tom was an ally, not a subordinate of Newt's. He was his own freestanding political force, and inevitably rode his own course -- sometimes along Newt's path, sometimes not. (Just as, I might note, when Newt was minority whip under Republican Minority House Leader Bob Michel, he was only a sometimes ally of Mr. Michel.)
Even in a unified congressional caucus -- as ours was in 1994-1995 -- it is made up of diverse and conflicting personalities, strategies, tactics, careers and goals. As Newt's right-hand guy, I had my elbows out to match Tom Delay's own sharp elbows. But I admired his skill and his contribution to the common goals of the Party.
In 1997 (after I had left), Tom Delay led an unsuccessful rebellion against Newt (known at the time as the "Coup."), but retained sufficient respect of the rank-and-file members to remain as a powerful and intelligent force within the party.
By the winter of 1998, Newt chose post-election retirement rather than a battle to retain the Speaker's chair. Even as brilliant a leader as Newt had become more detriment than benefit to the Republican House members.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.