GQ: Kiss the Ring

Flush with victory after the election, Rahm's allies, led by Carville, try to mount a coup at the DNC by publicly attacking Dean and suggesting he be replaced by Harold Ford, a Tennessee moderate who just lost a Senate race. "You can't go into 2008 having a party chairman that is completely disconnected from the congressional leadership and the campaign committees," Carville tells me, further pounding the wedge that divides the Deaniacs and the Clintonites. When I ask if Rahm agrees, Carville says, "It's not any secret that Rahm has expressed disdain for Dean and not very secret that Rahm and I are close," says Carville. "It doesn't take a lot of dot-connecting here." What about the Clintons, who, given Hillary's presidential ambitions, have more cause for concern about who runs the DNC in 2008? "Let's just say nobody has called me telling me this is a bad idea. Sometimes silence is eloquence." Not only did Carville's coup fail but it arguably strengthened Dean, who, speaking before his state-party allies, mocked the attempt as a desperate attack from the "old Democratic Party." Cutting his losses, Rahm quickly leaked word to the press that he and Dean had negotiated a truce.

Oddly enough, for Rahm, his election-night victory will be followed by another check on his ambitions. In the wake of success, many assumed Rahm would run for majority whip, the third-ranking position in the new House. But Pelosi will douse those flames, warning Rahm not to challenge James Clyburn, a black congressman who is in line for the position. Rahm's consolation prize will be caucus chairman, the number four job. His aides say he will turn the backwater position into a more important perch, from which he will build a base of power for himself and other young members, many of whom he just elected, who are frustrated with the older generation of House Democrats. "The Democratic caucus under Rahm," says Lapp, "will be like a DCCC on the Hill."

As the returns come in, I ask Rahm what he will say tonight when it's his turn to address the cameras. "I'm working on it right now," he says, pointing to some papers. He offers to read it to me. Then a strange thing happens. Rahm Emanuel turns solemn and self-conscious. He sits up in his chair and holds the pages of his text a few inches from the table. The remarks are election-night pabulum, but he reads them slowly, earnestly, as if for the first time he realizes that the payoff from all the attack ads and fund-raising calls and [expletive]-you's is that the rule of one party is ending and that his party, the one that was kicked out of power because his crowd couldn't shoot straight in 1994, will now be in charge.

"It's been said," he starts haltingly, "that Washington's often the last place in America to get the news. So let me tell you tonight, the news has arrived. From every corner of our country, the American people have sent a resounding, unmistakable message of change. We accept your votes, not as a victory for our party but as an opportunity for our country. And we humbly accept your challenge." It is almost a poignant moment, a flash of the sensitive guy that Rahm's aides have been telling me lurks beneath the Chicago tough-guy exterior.

But then it is gone in a flash, and with it the peacemaking pretensions. A little later, when CNN projects that Democrats will take back the House, Rahm climbs onto a desk and addresses his staff. "The Republicans," he yells, "can go [expletive] themselves!"

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