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A matter of time

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

We don’t want to swamp the blog with Larry Craig posts, but a little finer point needs to be put here on just what the Idaho senior senator’s current status is. Which is: More dire than Craig apparently is willing to accept.

Our initial thought (on hearing the news reports 24 hours ago) was that, since his arrest in a Minneapolis airport mens room had little to do with his work as a senator, he might be able to ride it out, at least through this term (though re-election seems a lot cause). We no longer think so: While Craig is very unlikely to be forced out, conditions are deteriorating so quickly that his staying may soon become impractical.

Craig happened to be in Idaho when the story broke, and this afternoon he delivered a statement at a press conference – no questions taken.

He reiterated that his actions in Minneapolis were misinterpreted and that he should not have pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct misdemeanor. He said repeatedly, “I am not gay.” He blasted the Idaho Statesman: “For eight months leading up to June, my family and I had been relentlessly and viciously harassed by the Idaho Statesman. If you’ve seen today’s paper, you know why.” He apologized to his constituents because “I have brought a cloud over Idaho,” though he said he did nothing wrong, apart from his handling of the incident. And of his political plans, he said, “Over the years, I have accomplished a lot for Idaho, and I hope Idahoans will allow me to continue to do that. There are still goals I would like to accomplish, and I believe I can still be an effective leader for Idaho. Next month, I will announce, as planned, whether or not I will seek reelection.” Finally, said he has retained an attorney in the matter and he acknowledged (though this isn’t on the Senate web site), “I’m sure this is an issue that is not yet over.”

That last may be the most pertinent point. By reaching a quick settlement on the criminal charges, Craig hoped (as he said) to put the matter quickly behind him. That has backfired: This will not end at least until Craig leaves the Senate. In shorthand, that is because his version of events simply isn’t being believed, because the circumstances and details unleashed fall into the category of information we’d rather not have known at all, and because of the reaction of his normal political supporters.

Craig said that he made a mistake in pleading guilty in Minneapolis, and in perceptual terms – if he wanted people to believe this whole thing really was just a misunderstanding – it certainly was. The charges if contested might have given his supporters some room to maneuver, but his guilty plea seems to have sealed the deal for almost everyone. (As a matter of formality, the legal plea document which he signed says, “I now make no claim that I am innocent of the charge to which I am entering a plea of guilty.”)

We’ve scrounged all over the web in the last day looking for someone supporting Craig’s version of events; so far, we’ve found no takers, no one outside his immediate circle who seems to take the senator’s word on this, with one limited exception: Idaho Republican Chair Kirk Sullivan, who said “Nobody’s proven anything” and that Craig could remain effective in the Senate. (Technically, he’s wrong; the guilty plea amounts to legal proof of guilt.)

Ironically, Craig may have made matters worse now by announcing he was hiring a lawyer for him on this, even though the central case – the criminal one – is closed and over with. That sounds like a guarantee of more news to come, a prospect that has to appall his fellow Republicans. (That’s not to mention what would happen if more reports of other incidents emerge in the days or weeks ahead as, after this, they easily could.)

What made the situation worse still was the details. We have the suspicion that things might be a little different if, say, the report were that the senator had an affair with a man, in some motel or residence. Something about the whole report about prowling in public mens’ rooms made the whole thing a lot more gut-churning; the reaction is probably a lot more visceral, and that matters.

Almost immediately after the Roll Call report, Craig resigned from his leadership position in the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. And the video of Craig endorsing Romney partly on grounds of shared strong family values is now off the Romney web site (though it remains on UTube). That might have been enough, except that Romney himself evidently has decided that more distancing is needed. One national blog (under the headline “Romney throws Craig under bus“) says that “the lurid details of this story and past whisperings about Craig make him politically radioactive right now.” Here’s a report about what Romney had to say about one of his first, strongest and best supporters:

“Once again, we’ve found people in Washington have not lived up to the level of respect and dignity that we would expect for somebody that gets elected to a position of high influence,” Romney told CNBC’s Larry Kudlow in a broadcast to be aired later. “Very disappointing. He’s no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine. … I’m sorry to see that he has fallen short.” . . .

“I think it reminds us of Mark Foley and Bill Clinton,” Romney told Kudlow, in remarks reported on the network’s First Read blog. “I think it reminds us of the fact that people who are elected to public office continue to disappoint, and they somehow think that if they vote the right way on issues of significance or they can speak a good game, that we’ll just forgive and forget.”

This is way beyond “this person is no longer associated with my campaign.” There’s a message here.

Craig’s colleagues in the Senate today have just called for an investigation into the Minneapolis incident and related matters – that is, his Republican caucus colleagues, not the Democrats, got together and did this. There’s a message in this too.

Bryan Fischer of the Idaho Values Alliance, who (with reason) argued last fall against jumping to conclusions about Craig in the absence of solid evidence, now has this to say: “It strains credulity to think that the senator can provide an explanation for his guilty plea if he did nothing more than accidentally brush someone’s foot with his shoe and pick up a piece of paper off the floor. . . . If the senator did indeed engage in the behavior to which he pled guilty, then the appropriate thing for him to do is to resign from office. Character is an essential qualification for public service, and the essence of character is what you do when you do not think anyone is looking.”

Idaho Falls’ Trish and Halli extend the point a bit: “This incident should shake the Idaho Republican party to its foundation. Craig has been nothing if not the paragon of decorum during his years in office, rising to leadership in powerful senate committees and commanding decisive victories over all challengers. All that was apparently thrown in the trash bin during a moment of impropriety.”

Some other Republicans are being gentler; Craig’s fellow Idaho senator, Mike Crapo, reminded constituents in interviews today that Craig has served with distinction for many years (counting his years in the state Senate, since 1974). But when asked whether Craig would resign, Crapo would only defer that question to Craig himself. You don’t have to ponder hard to read the unsaid message here, either.

There are some calls, now, for Craig’s resignation from more usual sources. The Idaho Falls Post Register (no open link available), which editorially hasn’t been a Craig backer anyway, was quick to do so: “Craig engaged in deception, and because of that, he can’t be trusted. Craig’s credibility is shattered. He cannot seek another term in the U.S. Senate. He can’t serve effectively in the remaining 16 months of his term. Craig should quit.” We suspect other Idaho papers will be editorializing on similar lines before long.

Craig probably hasn’t absorbed it all yet; he may in something approaching shock. (Most people would be.) But when he does, he may look ahead and find hard to imagine living through 16 more months of this. We think his resignation has become simply a matter of time.

RE RUNNING What if, despite it all – and we don’t think this likely – Craig announces in a few weeks that he actually would run for a fourth term next year?

Can you say, “Let’s watch all hell break loose”? Political analysts would have 4th of July fireworks for month after month after month. Very little in Idaho Senate politics would be predictable. Our guess is that if he initially announced a run, he would later pull out after encountering a raft of difficulties. But if he stuck with it regardless . . . well, there’ be primary opposition, and a key question would be who and how many – no one knows. Maybe the most predictable direct impact would be a decision by the national Democratic Senate committee to pour a pile of money into Idaho, since a substantial Democratic candidate – Larry La Rocco, a former U.S. House member himself – is already running hard, and Idaho politics could be in such turmoil that an upset could happen.

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