Skip to comments.Life After Lott
Posted on 12/20/2002 9:34:55 PM PST by Mensch
REPUBLICANS APPROACH 2003 with the embarrassing Trent Lott flap over, the most attractive and genial Republican senator, Bill Frist, installed as the new Senate majority leader, and his tough and shrewd conservative colleague Mitch McConnell as the majority whip. It's Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay all over again, Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside, the good cop and the bad cop.
Meanwhile, Democrats, led by the Clintons and their consigliere, Democratic chairman Terry McAuliffe, enter the New Year issuing absurd and demagogic charges about how Republicans use race to win elections. It's pure race-baiting, crude and untrue. Having lost the November 5 election on the national security issue, Democrats are now playing the race card, but in a way that's likely to hurt only themselves.
Who'd have guessed that Republicans would be up, Democrats down? For two weeks, Republicans had been on the defensive. President Bush was forced to dump his economic team, the GOP lost the Louisiana Senate race plus a Republican House seat, Saddam Hussein was winning the public relations war with Bush by welcoming arms inspectors, and Lott made an extraordinary mistake by going public with a private pleasantry between him and retiring senator Strom Thurmond suggesting nostalgia for segregation. Democrats had a lot to capitalize on. They tried to exploit the Lott case to tar all Republicans as racists. What Lott had said publicly, Sen. Hillary Clinton declared, other Republicans mutter privately. Who was she talking about? Which Republicans? She didn't say.
Republicans may be lucky, for a change. Not only did the Lott affair end well with the senator's decision to step down, but Saddam Hussein played into America's hands by submitting a palpably fraudulent inventory of his weapons to the United Nations. Even Hans Blix, the squishy arms inspector, and the French ambassador to the U.N. turned on Iraq. It set the stage for Secretary of State Colin Powell to denounce the Iraqis for a "material breach" of a U.N. resolution. And it improved the chances the Bush administration will have plenty of allies, including the French, on board when the time comes, probably in February, to drive Saddam out of office and liberate Iraq.
Democrats look desperate and self-destructive. With the retirement of Thurmond and Sen. Jesse Helms, the GOP has very few Dixiecrats left in the party. Yet Democrats would have the nation believe Republicans are racists at heart, only adept at covering it up. In campaigns, they say, Republicans use clever code words and issues, like retaining the Confederate flag, that are proxies for racism. Does anyone believe this about the 2002 Republican Senate candidates, say Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina or Lindsey Graham in South Carolina or Lamar Alexander in Tennessee or John Cornyn in Texas? Not a chance. The charge is both unprovable and implausible.
For two weeks, the Lott controversy looked as if it would bedevil Republicans for months or years. Lott refused to quit and his apologies helped very little. But once it was clear he couldn't last as majority leader, his friends and allies--especially McConnell--quickly nudged him toward quitting. And just when a soft landing from the flap seemed impossible, it happened with the ascension of Frist. He is a great story all by himself, a heart doctor who volunteers his time for surgery in Africa and wrote a book about combating anthrax and other biological weapons. Frist is also popular with the media (at least until he makes a few conservative decisions as majority leader). Republican senators wisely rushed to crown him before Christmas.
Conservatives have reason to worry about Frist's ideological commitment, but not much. True, he's a moderate conservative with a pragmatic streak, just like Bush. And he emphasizes domestic issues such as health care. In fact, he represents the triumph of Bushism: a compassionate conservative in command of the Senate, or, put another way, conservatism with a happy face. Things may not work out perfectly for conservatives in terms of substance, but the emergence of Frist is great PR for Republicans.
Quite suddenly Republicans have an unusually capable leadership team in the Senate. Lott and his whip, Don Nickles, didn't get along and it showed. Frist is likely to work smoothly with McConnell, who graciously endorsed him for leader rather than challenge him in a contest that would have lingered over the holidays. Along with McConnell, the number three and four members in the leadership, Rick Santorum and John Kyl, are among the smartest conservatives in the Senate. So, post-Lott, Republicans are filled with optimism for 2003. Democrats are merely bitter.
I love a story with a happy ending.
This situation has been a very difficult one. However, these guys have handled it. The Conservative Movement is stronger now than it was with Lott heading the Senate. The other side is in disarray. It's made lemonade out of lemons. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Do you really think that the GOP has gained traction in the political arena? Not being confrontational... I hope you are correct!
Cheers and Merry Christmas to you!
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