Trent Lott Comeback Buzz Grows Louder
The Hill‘s Alexander Bolton reports that there is increasing buzz over a Trent Lott return to the Leadership after the fall elections.
The prospect of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) returning to leadership next year is creating more and more buzz on and off Capitol Hill, Republican insiders say. The higher volume of talk has been fueled partly by his former aides who hold influential lobbying positions downtown, but prominent GOP insiders with no special allegiance to Lott say it extends well beyond his inner circle.
Perhaps by coincidence, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has recently sought a more public leadership role, appearing more often before television cameras set up outside the GOP conference’s Tuesday luncheons, and has otherwise made himself more available to the press.
Lott surrounded by a gaggle of reporters is not an unusual sight. Since resigning as majority leader in December 2002 he has been a media favorite because of his mix of outspokenness and authority. It is his role as a behind-the-scenes dealmaker, however, that has caught the attention of senators, staff and lobbyists looking ahead to next year. Lott has influenced Senate-House negotiations over pension reform, tax cuts and other legislation. “I get a lot of comments from people around the town, from staffers, senators and lobbyists, who are watching what Lott’s doing behind the scenes,” said Jack Howard, the senator’s former deputy chief of staff, “People are thinking more seriously that Lott should be back in the leadership in some capacity.”
But Lott loyalists are not the only ones talking. Former Reagan White House Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein, chairman of the Duberstein Group, said: “I think there is a broad sense that Trent Lott has a proven track record as a leader in both the House and the Senate and that many beside the immediate Lott staff family find it an attractive avenue should Trent decide to run. You hear the chatter. You hear the buzz. It is not, from what I can detect, staff-generated or previous-staff-generated but a recognition that Trent racked up quite a track record when he was whipping the House and his various leadership positions in the Senate.”
Lott’s best chance of returning to leadership would arise if Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) loses his reelection race. Santorum is considered the favorite to succeed McConnell as assistant leader after Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) retires this year. Lott has made clear to his friends that he supports Santorum’s bid for reelection and wouldn’t run for the Republican whip’s position while Santorum is fighting for his political life.
If Republicans lose several seats in the Senate, [Mitch] McConnell [(R-KY)] could be vulnerable in a race to replace Frist. Lott told reporters last December that if he decided to run for reelection he would run for a leadership post and that he would consider challenging McConnell for the top spot. But when he announced his intention to seek reelection he downplayed his earlier statement.
McConnell is not likely to have forgotten it. His chief deputy, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), said more than 40 GOP senators have already pledged to support him for majority leader. But McConnell nevertheless appears uneasy about Lott’s comeback. McConnell is seen as behind the candidacy of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to replace him as assistant majority leader. Alexander, meanwhile, is pitching himself as a loyalist to McConnell, telling other GOP senators that he has no ambition to become majority leader and that the No. 2 spot should go to someone wholly focused on assisting the leader.
I don’t know much about their legislative acumen but I’d welcome a McConnell-Alexander team as the face of the GOP in the Senate. Both are strong leaders, highly respected for their integrity, and conservative without being over-the-top.
As I’ve written before (the “Lott comeback” story won’t die) putting Lott back into the mix would be a mistake. Most obviously, he’ll never shake the “he wishes we still had segregation” meme that, while a damnable lie, has managed to stick. Unfair as it may be, that’s reality. And it will work against him every time he speaks out in favor of the Republican agenda.
Further, I don’t know where the talk about what a “proven leader” his is comes from. He’s a proven climber, to be sure, having risen to the upper tiers of leadership in the House (the Whip post) and then quickly ascending once he moved over to the Senate. But my recollection is that he was consistently outmaneuvered by Tom Daschle after taking over for Bob Dole as Majority Leader.