Somebody better draft a new set of talking points for Tom DeLay, the chief thug of the Republican mob that controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

Up until now, DeLay, whose ethics make a Mafia don look like a saint, has claimed all the questions about his treachery, fraud and abuse are nothing more than a liberal plot by the Democrats. But, slowly but steadily, Republicans are starting to act nervous and say maybe the scandal-scarred Texas political hack needs to go.

Chris Shays, the Connecticut moderate, called for DeLay to step down, saying The Hammer’s many ethical lapses are hurting the Republican party.

But the rabid right wing of the GOP, which wouldn’t know an ethic if it popped up in a bowl of Wendy’s chili, dismissed Shay’s comments because he is – in their jargon – a “RINO,” which stands for “Republican in Name Only.”  Which really means Shays thinks for himself and uses his brain for more than a receptacle for the propaganda bile that spills out of the Republican National Committee offices.

“Tom’s conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority and it is hurting any Republican who is up for re-election,” Shays says.

Now this generates an interesting paradox. Keep DeLay where he is and Republicans may lose in next year’s elections. Dump him and the GOP may keep control of Congress. This is a little like trying to keep your worst enemy from driving off a cliff in your brand new Ferrari.

But Shays isn’t the only one raising questions about DeLay’s conduct. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who generally lines up with the rabid right, says the House Majority Leader needs to come clean.

“I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves,” Santorum said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. Santorum covered his ass with conservatives by adding that he is sure DeLay did nothing illegal and saying “you may not like some of the things he’s done. That’s for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior or not.”

But while the GOP tries to keep a solid public face of support behind DeLay, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate face an increasing number of angry members who say, behind closed doors, that he must go.

A group of young GOP members recently met privately with House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert to demand he remove DeLay from the House Majority Leader’s post. Their message was blunt and to-the-point: Get rid of DeLay or we’ll find a new Speaker.

But Hastert, for the moment, remains firm in his support for DeLay. Like others of the power-mad GOP majority, Hastert believes no crime is too great if committed by a Republican.

Like most partisans, Hastert puts party above country and political expediency above law. Truth and justice just get in the way.