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Reed's Greed

This column was written by Terence Samuel.

The Bush Administration finds itself in a very odd place — under and sinking fast — and for them, the dislocation must be staggering. And while it is interesting to watch as the White House unveils its new candor campaign in trying to right itself, that effort may be the definition of 'too little, too late.' All you have to do to understand the extent of the GOP's problems is to look at what is going on with one-time Golden Boy Ralph Reed, who is on the 2006 ballot in Georgia. He is going under fast and taking other Republicans with him, in magenta-red Georgia no less.

The founding executive director of the Christian Coalition, who ten years ago appeared on the cover of Time under the headline, "The Right Hand of God: Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition," has GOP leaders in Georgia so worried that some of them are asking him to withdraw, fearing he will kill their entire ticket.

For Reed, this run for lieutenant governor is part of an assault on greatness: lieutenant governor in 2006, governor in 2010, and president after that. But Reed is an example of what Jack Abramoff will mean to the GOP next year. Reed was an integral part of the Abramoff gambling swindle in Texas in 2002, in which the former super lobbyist worked both sides of the gambling debate, working for one client to get a casino shut down, with Reed's help, then signing up the vanquished Indian tribe for more than $4 million to get the casino reopened, which he tried to do with the help of the now embattled Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio.

It is hard to measure but impossible to deny the damage that Abramoff has done to the GOP's chance in 2006, and Reed may become the poster boy for the Abramoff Effect in the 2006 midterms. If Republicans can't pull off the political reversal they need in the wake of Iraq and Katrina and get rid of the scandal cloud over the Congress, the 2006 elections may go down in history as the end of the GOP revolution of 1994, a 12-year period during which they not only ran the government, but developed a pugnacious, unsentimental way of doing business and an overconfidence that Democrats still have not figured out how to match. And in a lot of ways, Reed and Abramoff were archetypes of the times, and weaved into the collapse of their personal and political fortunes, is the demise of a political movement.

Obviously, they are not alone: Tom DeLay is in trouble with the Justice Department, Conrad Burns is paving the way for a Democratic senator from Montana, Bob Ney needs a criminal lawyer, and Duke Cunningham is going to jail. But Reed and Abramoff were part of that GOP crowd that seemed to have figured out something fundamental about American politics that would make them unbeatable. Two other notables on that list, Karl Rove and Grover Norquist, have also attracted the attention of federal investigators.

But, what is clear now is that they just had a better game face, just wanted it more, and it has been tragic to watch them become what they so often evangelized against: corrupt, self-dealing, political prima donnas.

Reed and Abramoff came to Washington about the same time, the beginning of the Reagan Administration. Abramoff had just been elected chairman of the College Republican National Committee and Reed would be his first executive director. Norquist had been Abramoff's campaign manager. They were driven, young idealists. When we last see them, however, Abramoff is a millionaire lobbyist and Reed is begging him for business from corporate clients. In one of the thousands of e-mails that federal authorities confiscated from Abramoff, one from Reed reads: "Hey, now that I'm done with the electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts."

In 2001 and 2002, Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon began funneling money to Reed to fight gambling in Texas, mostly an effort to shutdown the El Paso casino run by the Texas Tiguas. After they shut it down, Abramoff calls the Tiguas and promises to get it reopened in return for a few million bucks.

But of course the friends begin haggling, not over the direction of the conservative movement or how to change the world, but over money. Abramoff wrote an e-mail to Scanlon in early 2002 about Reed, which asserted, "He is a bad version of us! No more money for him."

And there goes your revolution, folks.

Terence Samuel is a political writer in Washington, D.C.
By Terence Samuel
Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect, 5 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109. All rights reserved

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