THE NEXT TIME YOU HIRE SOMEONE to exterminate roaches from your home, imagine him as the majority whip of the United States House of Representatives. For customers of Albo Pest Control in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land a dozen years ago, the scenario came true. In fact, the second career of Tom DeLay, Albo’s former owner, has a lot in common with the first. Today his job is the political extermination of liberalism, and he performs it with such enthusiasm that even the graphic title of whip has been deemed insufficient to describe his efforts. Among Washington’s inside-the-Beltway crowd, DeLay is known as the Hammer.
The epithet does not trouble him. “It’s kind of fun,” he said, grinning. “I’m just a very gentle guy.” The grin broadened, advancing up his face to the crinkled corners of his eyes. He lounged deeper into an overstuffed chair in a windowless sitting room on the east side of the Capitol, a comfortable pose for a politician who is entirely comfortable with who he is. DeLay knows that a little bit of legend can go a long way in a profession whose most famous consultant—a fellow named Machiavelli—once said that it was better to be feared than loved.
If Speaker Newt Gingrich is the visionary of the Republican revolution and majority leader Dick Armey is the brains, Tom DeLay is the muscle. He is both a hard-line conservative and a first-rate practical politician—a combination that, at this particular moment, is all too rare in the Republican party. In a leadership triumvirate whose other two members are former college professors, DeLay provides the ordinariness that is the heart and soul of the House. Even his appearance is ordinary: average height and weight, a face that looks a little younger than his 49 years, a minimum of distinguishing gestures and inflections, and down-to-earth concerns. (During George W. Bush’s first visit to Washington as Texas