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Moderates need not apply

October 03, 2005

FOR A BRIEF MOMENT LAST WEEK, it appeared that House Speaker Dennis Hastert had succeeded in his plan to have Rep. David Dreier of San Dimas replace the freshly indicted Tom DeLay as House majority leader. It's a shame the appointment didn't stick. No matter how temporary the post, the ascent of a thoughtful and congenial moderate to one of the most powerful leadership positions in Congress would have been good for both the GOP and the nation.

Long before the ethically challenged DeLay was indicted by a Texas grand jury on a charge of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws, House Republicans regularly chose Dreier to make their party's case on television. Smooth and articulate, Dreier is a friendlier alternative to the frequently acerbic and combative DeLay. He became a calm and unflappable fixture on the cable talk shows that are so often dominated by nasty, partisan bickering.

It is this very affability that may have spoiled Dreier's chances of assuming DeLay's former post. According to one Republican strategist, Dreier's problem was that "he's seen as a nice guy."

When word got out that Dreier had become the front-runner for majority leader, conservatives in the GOP caucus rebelled. They feared that Dreier would have altered not just the message but the tone of the party's congressional leadership. After the dust settled, the post went to DeLay acolyte Roy Blunt of Missouri, while Dreier and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia were appointed his deputies.

Although Blunt does have a lighter touch than DeLay, he is as unrelentingly partisan. And like DeLay, Blunt has also been dogged by ethics issues.

On Friday, The Times reported that Blunt's political action committee paid $94,000 to the consulting firm of Jim Ellis, an ally of DeLay who has been indicted alongside the former majority leader. After Wednesday's skirmish, word also emerged that DeLay himself was unimpressed by Blunt's tenure as majority whip, the party's No. 3 post.

It is true that Dreier is ideologically more moderate than DeLay or Blunt. Nonetheless, he has loyally served the Republican leadership as chairman of the House Rules Committee.

By choosing Blunt over Dreier, House Republicans have revealed their preference for ideological purity over ethics and even effectiveness. They also leave the impression that they see bipartisanship and cordiality as fine for TV but not for leading Congress.

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