WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON --Tom DeLay, the fiery former House majority leader, knows why his party lost control of Congress last year. And he is not to blame.
In his new book, DeLay, a polarizing figure whom Democrats sought to make a symbol of Republican corruption, attributes the Republican defeat in November to frustration with President Bush, the war and "a general perception of Republican incompetence and lack of principles."
"I would suggest that Republicans lost because they did not communicate their message and their victories with enough strength to overcome short-term, media-fed issues that arose right before the election," DeLay writes in the book, No Retreat, No Surrender, referring in part to the congressional page scandal.
In typical take-no-prisoners fashion, DeLay, who left Congress last year after his indictment in Texas on charges related to campaign financing, lashes out at Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, and other fellow leaders of the 1994 Republican revolution. He criticizes the Republican leader of the ethics panel that admonished him, calls former President Bill Clinton "slimy" and portrays leading Democrats as his evil liberal tormentors.
He stands by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former members of the DeLay inner circle who pleaded guilty to corruption charges. While he finds room to praise Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Rep. Dennis Hastert, the Illinois lawmaker he helped install as speaker, DeLay does not spare them. He questions why Hastert agreed to a rules change that forced DeLay from the leadership after his indictment.
"I consider George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Denny Hastert all to be good men," DeLay writes, "but there is not an articulate voice among them."
Delay's 179-page memoir is infuriating critics who say he has never recognized his own misconduct, how his style of politics contributed to a deterioration in House standards and the degree to which his troubles consumed House Republicans in a tough election year. One critic, Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, an activist group that monitors Texas Republicans, said that in sharp contrast to the book's title, DeLay left Congress when it appeared he would have to fight for his political survival.
"DeLay titling his new book No Retreat, No Surrender is like Jack Abramoff calling his memoirs Ethics and Honesty," Angle said this week. He was referring to the jailed lobbyist who had ties to DeLay.
DeLay's seat went to a Democrat in November when he tried to withdraw after winning his primary and the courts would not let Republicans replace him on the ballot. In the book, DeLay said he chose to quit after weeks of prayer, deciding it would prevent his becoming an issue for other Republicans.
DeLay credits Gingrich with having a gift for politics, but the tensions between the two were no secret. He is dismissive of Gingrich's tenure as speaker after he led the effort to break the 40-year Democratic grip on the House.
DeLay, who defeated Gingrich's choice for party whip, calls Gingrich an "ineffective speaker of the House."
"He knew nothing about running meetings and nothing about driving an agenda," he writes. "Newt wanted to turn the ship of state on a dime. Nearly every other day he had a new agenda, a new direction he wanted us to take. It was impossible to follow him."
The comments have drawn the attention of Gingrich, who is considering a presidential bid. In an interview, Gingrich listed a series of accomplishments during his reign in the House, including the first tax cuts in 16 years, welfare changes, institutional improvements, a balanced budget, increased intelligence spending and the holding of a majority after the ousting of the entrenched Democrats.
"What I would say is take that list of accomplishments, and you can then ask DeLay what the comparable accomplishments were after I left," Gingrich said.
DeLay, who is trying through his book and a Web site to become an influential conservative voice outside Congress, does admit to a dark side. "We are all flawed," he writes in the book. "And my flaw is that I can sometimes be aggressive, even mean."