Go away, Larry Craig. Republicans badly want their senior senator from Idaho out of the headlines and punch lines. But the man won’t go.
Many of us thought that he had gone away. Caught soliciting sex in a men’s room at the Minneapolis airport, Craig said that he would leave the Senate by the end of September.
But then he promised an early departure only if a judge denied his request to withdraw a guilty plea. The Minnesota judge refused to set it aside, and now Craig vows to complete his term anyway. That means he’d be gone by January 2009. “I hope this provides the certainty Idaho needs and deserves,” he said.
But avocados stay firm longer than a Larry Craig deadline. Craig is probably buying time in the hopes that his problems will become old news by 2008 and he can re-invent himself. He might choose to play the martyr, portraying himself as a victim of the media (liberal? conservative?) and a political inquisition.
“There’s core support here that thinks Craig has been railroaded,” Jasper LiCalzi, a political scientist at Albertson College, near Boise, tells The Idaho Statesman.
One feels brief sympathy for the Republican leadership. If Craig left right away, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter could replace him with another Republican who would use the next 12 months digging in as the incumbent. In addition to frustrating this plan, Craig’s presence reminds voters that the Republican self-portrayal as defender of conventional morality and sexual propriety is full of it.
Craig has joined the growing GOP pantheon of adulterers and closeted gays, including chasers of congressional pages. Once thus enshrined, the erring politician is supposed to disappear, though Republicans seem to make a broad exception for fornicators of a heterosexual bent.
Craig’s hanging around enhances the Democrats’ chances of winning a Senate seat in this conservative state. And that would spur Democrats toward the 60- vote majority needed to overcome filibusters in the Senate – a dream made more plausible by the wave of Republican retirements. (Slate blogger Mickey Kaus quips that Craig seems to be “the only Republican who’s not quitting the Senate.”) Planners in the Democratic bunker are no doubt promoting the senator’s continued “service.”
Moving the scenario along, several Republican senators are offering their colleague unexpected encouragement. Fellow Idahoan Mike Crapo and Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, say he has a right to stay in office as he tries to clear his name. Craig is reportedly mulling whether to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah chimed in to say that had Craig not pled guilty to the disorderly conduct charge, any lawyer could have helped him beat the rap. “I could have won it for him,” he said.
And how fortuitous for Craig that despite his recent troubles, the Idaho Hall of Fame plans to go ahead and induct him. The ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 13.
So it’s easy to imagine Craig pulling a fast one and running again. Any Republican senator who spends years denying rumors of his homosexuality, then trolls for gay romance in a public restroom, clearly likes a highstakes game.
Now that Craig is staying, the Senate Ethics Committee can resume its probe of his conduct. There’s something in it for everyone on this three-Democrat, three-Republican panel. Democrats can keep the scandal before the public, and Republicans can try to get rid of Craig.
A historic note: Craig was on the Senate Ethics Committee in 1995, when it ruled on sexual harassment charges against then- Sen. Bob Packwood, a fellow Republican from next-door Oregon. Craig voted to expel him.
©2007 The Providence Journal Co.