What’s next — Newt Gingrich on “America’s Next Top Model”?
When he was majority whip, Tom DeLay kept a real bullwhip in his office — and knew how to crack it. As House majority leader, he made sure his people knew that if he was The Hammer, they were all potential nails. His indictment on conspiracy charges was a high-profile blow to his already teetering party, clinching the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006.
And now he’s ... headed for “Dancing With the Stars,” where he’ll lambada against the likes of former teen idol Donny Osmond, ex-model Kathy Ireland and Ozzy Osbourne’s daughter, Kelly.
Inside the Beltway, many are more than a little bemused at the prospect of the former exterminator-turned-political-terminator from Sugar Land, Texas, doing a paso doble on primetime TV.
When asked what they thought of the onetime Republican leader’s latest pursuit, the current minority leader’s office responded, “We wish him the best of luck.” When asked whether there was any chance that anyone might elaborate, a spokesman replied, “Not in an interesting way, no.”
Others are unabashedly amused.
“Once upon a time, Tom DeLay was the powerful majority leader, jetting off to St. Andrews on a private plane with über-lobbyist Jack Abramoff,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a longtime DeLay nemesis who helped facilitate his departure from legislative life. “A few years later, from the comfort of his prison cell, Abramoff can watch DeLay as a TV reality-show contestant. Who says there’s no justice?”
So how exactly did it happen? The show’s executive producer, Conrad Green, says they were looking for a politician — one who wasn’t currently in office so that he or she would have the time to commit to the project.
So, naturally, they asked Tom DeLay.
“It had to be someone who everybody knows. We just took a ‘Hail Mary,’ basically. And he said yes in about 10 minutes.”
It turned out that DeLay enjoys dancing with his wife, and watches the show “avidly,” Green said.
“He won’t be our oldest celebrity, but he’ll definitely be one of our more unusual,” Green said. “And unlike anyone else on the show, he certainly knows how to get out a vote.”
Green wasn’t kidding: Monday afternoon, DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty was already reminding DeLay’s supporters via email that “this is a fun new challenge, not a political crusade, but we’ll still need to enlist all the help we can get to whip up the vote.”
She revealed that DeLay — who remains under indictment in Texas — will meet with his dance partner and begin rehearsals Tuesday, and that he has been working out with a personal trainer to get in shape for the show. She also noted that he has known about the project for “months” and is “incredibly excited.”
Republican strategist John Feehery, a former DeLay communications director, says he wouldn’t bet against The Hammer on the dance floor.
“He’s actually — I’ve seen him dance before. He’s a pretty good dancer. He’s got some moves,” he said. “People need to understand that Tom’s not just a one-dimensional guy. He’s got a lot of personality, and I think people are going to see that.”
“He’s a hardworking guy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he did very well,” he said.
Asked whether there was a risk to reputation or legacy for DeLay, Feehery replied, “Anytime you’re on TV dancing there’s a risk. But I think at this point in time there’s a lot of upside for him.”
Added Feehery: “I’m sure he’ll do better than Tucker Carlson.”
Carlson, who appeared on the show back in the fall of 2006, was the first of his DWTS class to be voted off the show after his cha-cha-cha failed to impress the judges. When informed that DeLay would be joining the show, his first response was fairly typical: “That’s bizarre,” he said.
Perhaps not quite as strange as it seems, however; as Green noted, DeLay has long been a follower of the show, stumping personally for one of Carlson’s competitors back in 2006, country singer Sara Evans.
Before the season began, DeLay fired off a letter to friends in which he urged:
“Sara Evans has been a strong supporter of the Republican Party and represents good American values in the media. From singing at the 2004 Republican Convention to appearing with candidates in the last several election cycles, we have always been able to count on Sara for her support of the things we all believe in. Let’s show Sara that same support by watching and voting for her each week to help her win this competition.”
He went on to add: “One of her opponents on the show is ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer. We need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place on television by supporting good people like Sara Evans.”
(Evans ultimately dropped out of the competition after filing a divorce petition peppered with X-rated accusations against her husband, Craig Schelske, who made an unsuccessful bid for Congress as a Republican from Ohio in 2002.)
Carlson, who apparently holds no grudge against the former majority leader for backing one of his DWTS rivals, e-mailed these two bits of advice to pass along to DeLay:
"1) Go all the way. As long as you're doing it, there's no reason to hold back. Embrace the skintight polyester pants, high-heel shoes and codpiece. Silence the inner voice that reminds you how ridiculous you look and commands you to flee to an obscure foreign country. It's 'Dancing With the Stars.' You can't be too flamboyant. Pirouette like Nureyev, and enjoy it.
2) Never Google yourself again."