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'The Hammer' strikes back

| Sunday, March 25, 2007

The "Hammer" is not angry. Really, he's not. But he is disappointed.

Tom DeLay, former congressman of Texas and GOP majority leader, has a book out. "No Retreat, No Surrender" tells the story of a now-gone GOP majority; it dissects what went wrong, what went right and where the GOP goes from here -- DeLay-style. And he pulls no punches on what happened during the 12 years of a Republican majority in Congress.

In an interview, DeLay said a lack of trust, a rotting from within, undid his relationships with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. "But we knew that we had to get the job done and we accomplished some pretty amazing things in spite of it."

Of course, not everyone sees things that way. Voters changed majorities last fall.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the lead Democrat strategist for the 2006 House campaign, says DeLay polarized politics.

"He represented polarization and he practiced it," says Emanuel, whose relationship with DeLay was pure veneer: "I joked with him periodically, but there was no working relationship."

In his book and in person, DeLay is never one to shy away from saying how he really feels. That includes his thoughts on President Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"I do respect the president. ... I don't agree with him on certain issues," DeLay says. His support and respect for George W. Bush rests on the president's commitment to the war on terror, which DeLay considers the most important issue of our day.

Yet he strongly disagrees with Bush on his approach to immigration. "First and foremost you have to provide security for the border. ... Then you can talk about a very limited, very strict guest-worker program."

DeLay believes Rumsfeld was shown the door in response to last year's election; "I was very disappointed that the president let him go the way that (he) did."

Political responses such as Rumsfeld's dismissal always send the wrong message, he adds. "If you give the White House the right trouble, like they are doing with Alberto Gonzales, (the Democrats) know your weakness and they are going to go after that weakness."

After DeLay resigned from the House in June, pressed by looming legal issues, his seat went to Democrat Nick Lampson.

"DeLay's real gift," according to Mike Malaise, Lampson's campaign manager, "was that he was so unconcerned with propriety or public appearances, as long as the job got done, that it took people who opposed him -- both Democrat and Republican -- by surprise.

"His 'Hammer' reputation pushed people into line and enforced discipline within his party and he was astute at predicting the Democrats' weak responses to his various attacks."

Many conservatives believe all the fight has gone out of Republicans, that they've lost their backbone.

"Well," says DeLay, "my voice has some backbone."

To which Democrat political strategist John Lapp replies: "The more that Tom DeLay can put himself out there, the better it is for Democrats. ... It is just phenomenal that he is still part of the process. He obviously will not go quietly.

"I look forward to the Tom DeLay radio show, the Tom DeLay action figure and the other franchise potentials."

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