Surprisingly Decisive Action

I knew Sen. Larry Craig would likely be in denial. But I certainly didn’t give Republicans enough credit — I thought they would be in denial too. I knew they would be shocked, and probably furious, but I expected them to be paralyzed by an incredibly awkward situation. Their reaction was so swift and severe I believe I am as shocked by it as the senior senator from Idaho himself.

As nervous Republicans burned up the phone lines and dodged reporters Tuesday their leaders in the Senate threw old Larry under the bus. No waiting, no negotiating; they knew they had to shake this one. Even before he took to the cameras and microphones, Republicans asked for an ethics investigation and asserted that they would also examine Craig’s situation themselves to see if “additional action” was necessary. They did so less than 24 hours later by asking him to leave his committee posts, which is effectively the beginning of his resignation from the Senate.

The guilty plea, the one Craig regrets, was their ace in the hole. Without it, who knows where they would be. Is Craig coming back to Washington next week? Not if the Senate GOP leadership has anything to do with it. Without his committee seats Craig isn’t of much use to Idaho anymore, and from the comments streaming out of the news accounts from there, he isn’t much use to them anyway.

Some Republicans feel overwhelmed by the death by a thousand cuts they have endured since 2005. With new names on the scandal roster just this year — Paul Wolfowitz, Sen. Ted Stevens, Rep. Rick Renzi, Thomas Ravenel, and Craig are just some — disheartened party members fear their own voters will turn their backs and turn 2008 into Groundhog Day.

But those panicked and paralyzed Republicans do not include Minority Leader Mitch McConnell or Sen. Trent Lott, his whip who survived political exile to return to power after his segregation-friendly comments in 2002 forced him out as majority leader. Slammed with the Craig disaster they chose decisiveness. One cannot imagine the same from former Majority Leader Bill Frist.