The key to Ralph Reed’s rehabilitation: time

By any reasonable measure, Republicans shouldn’t even want to be in the same room as Ralph Reed. As Dave Weigel noted last year, “Reed was supposed to be dead, dead, dead. His 2006 defeat was covered as the effective end of a 45-year-old political strategist who was forever tainted by scandal.”

And yet, today Reed’s new organization, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, will kick off a large right-wing gathering today, and most of the Republican Party’s biggest players will be on hand to kiss Reed’s ring and woo his minions.

Mr. Reed is pursuing these grand, some say grandiose, plans with a nonprofit group that he has described as “a 21st-century version of the Christian Coalition on steroids.” As the name implies, the Faith and Freedom Coalition hopes to rope in a broader constituency. His “sweet spot,” he says, is the millions of people who were fired up by the fiscal concerns of the Tea Party and share the cultural values of evangelicals. […]

The coalition’s red, white and blue logo is reminiscent of the Christian Coalition’s. The new group is holding its second annual conference in Washington on Friday and Saturday, conjuring memories of the “Road to Victory” events that the Christian Coalition held in the capital every year.

As with the Christian Coalition, this group’s conference roster includes nearly all the likely contenders for the presidential nomination, including former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Herman Cain, a retired businessman, and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, as well as a famous almost-candidate, Donald Trump. There will also be evangelical leaders like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and establishment Republicans like Speaker John A. Boehner and Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman.

How, exactly, did Reed transform from the disgraced lobbyist caught up in the Abramoff scandal to right-wing GOP powerhouse? Well, it’s a funny story.

Reed waited. That’s it. He simply waited for time to elapse, confident that Republican officials, conservative activists, and the media would simply forget about his scandals and remember his organizing successes.

This worked remarkably well. Reed failed miserably in his only attempt at public office — losing a GOP primary for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006 — licked his wounds and laid low for a while. Five years later, Reed has declared himself rehabilitated and Abramoff is a distant memory.

But I still think it’s worth remembering the misdeeds of the sleazy conservative that Republicans are so eager to pall around with.

Remember this one, from June 2006?

Yet another delightful characterization of Ralph Reed, courtesy of today’s McCain report on the Abramoff scandal. This one comes courtesy of Jack Abramoff himself, via his discussion with Marc Schwartz, a public relations representative for the Tigua tribe in Texas.

Let’s pick up the report on page 148. Schwartz was evaluating whether the tribe should hire Abramoff as its lobbyist: To Schwartz, Abramoff appeared to have the right credentials. Abramoff claimed to be a close friend of Congressman Tom DeLay. He also discussed his friendship with Reed, recounting some of their history together at College Republicans. When Schwartz observed that Reed was an ideologue, Schwartz recalled that Abramoff laughingly replied “as far as the cash goes.”

Or, how about this one?

Ralph Reed, email to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, 1998: “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.”

Or this?

E-mails and testimony before McCain’s panel showed that Reed, who once branded gambling a “cancer” on society, reaped millions of dollars in tribal casino proceeds that Abramoff secretly routed to him through various non-profit front groups. Abramoff, a lobbyist for the tribes, paid Reed to whip up “grassroots” Christian opposition to prevent rival tribes from opening casinos.

It’s the latest reminder that there is literally nothing a conservative can do to be permanently excluded from polite company.

In an ideal world, today would be a great time for the media to press Boehner and other GOP leaders on why they’re comfortable hanging around with a disgraced former lobbyist accused of having a central role in a money laundering scandal. Do they feel at all concerned palling around with a corrupt figure like this one?