Who can run against Lott?
OK. Weblogs don’t matter. Nothing I say here will transform into a meme and change minds around America. But I don’t want Trent Lott at the reins of my party in the Senate. I want one of the following senators to run and get the 26 votes needed to succeed him.
1. Bill Frist, Tennessee
Frist is a powerhouse in his home state and a reliable conservative – the ACU gives him an average 92 percent rating, he favored voluntary social security privitization as early as 1998. He led the Republican Senate Campaign Committee this year, which showed how effective he can be. And, elected in 1994, he doesn’t chair anything outside of a few subcomittees – there’s not much for him to lose if he makes the trade.
2. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania
Another class of 1994 senator, Santorum quickly became Republican Conference Chairman and overcame unfavorable press in his home state concerning his ultraconservative reputation. He won my heart when he spoke for raising the social security benefits age and survived – not at all easy in Pennsylvania. But he’s comparatively lightweight and lacks the cuddly personality of Frist.
3. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska
He has spoken in the past about running for leader (not in those terms, but in slamming Lott publicly several times since 1996). He’s well-liked by his peers and the media, which is incredibly important for a fresh majority leader. But … he endorsed McCain in 2000 and took tons of flack from the right in 2002 when he jumped on the anti-“Chickenhawk” bandwagon. If he were one of two candidates, it’s hard to see how he’d win.
4. Kit Bond, Missouri
He’s only head of the Small Businesses committee, if I’m not mistaken – not exactly a tough job to acquiesce. He was the chief GOP sponsor of the Family and Medical Leave Act and is probably the most moderate of the candidates listed here – and he’ll look even more moderate when Jim Talent joins his delegation next month. But I’m not sure if he has the charm to compete with Tom Daschle or the party faith to satisfy conservatives.
5. John Kyl, Arizona
A rock-solid conservative whose effort to end the estate tax, his biggest-profile move to date, was vetoed by Clinton, Kyl scores just about every point you’d expect from an Arizona Republican. But he is a hawk against immrigation, illegal and otherwise, which would not be a step up from the image broadcast by Lott. Otherwise, he’d be a superlative leader. Cheney liked him so much he kept him on the VP list for Bush until very late in the game.
I’ve neglected mentioning senators who would be giving up powerful committee assignments if they were elected leader – Orrin Hatch, Dick Lugar, et al. I didn’t nominate anyone women because, with the exception of Kay Bailey Hutchison, they’re too liberal to lead the party (but not liberal enough to switch – that’s right, Tompaine.com), and I have never gotten the indication that Hutchison is jonesing for leadership roles. I didn’t nominate any southerners (apart, technically, from Frist) because they don’t help the party’s image – but you already knew that.
UPDATE: There’s some recent precedent for a successful Senatorial Campaign Chairman being elevated to the leadership. Sen. George Mitchell (D-MN), who spearheaded the Dems’ 1986 Senate sweep, was elected majority leader in 1988 to replace the ineffective Robert Byrd (D-WV). Mitch McConnell (R-KY), recently elected Republican whip, was the party’s CC in the 1998 cycle – and that wasn’t even much of a success. Don Nickles (R-OK), his predecessor, rose to prominence the same way, chairing the RSCC in the 1990 cycle. The Frist boom continues!