Trent Lott: The Comeback Kid?

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, forced to resign in disgrace in December 2002, is climbing back up the Republican leadership ladder according to a front page story in today’s Washington Post.

Lott Puts ‘Little Bump’ Behind Him

Trent Lott is reminiscing with supporters at the Rocky Creek Catfish Cottage, recalling the goat barbecues and Jaycee meetings that marked his first House campaign 33 years ago. But the senator draws the biggest whoops when he mentions the “little bump in the road” he hit in December 2002, when his return to the position of Senate majority leader was scuttled by what some saw as nostalgic words about segregation. All Washington thought he was finished. “But they don’t know us as Mississippians,” Lott chortles as heads nod around the dining room. “You get back up on it and you ride again.”


Lott took his consolation prize, the chairmanship of the Rules and Administration Committee, and turned it into a power base for dispensing favors, such as new computers and extra office space. He increased his profile by helping to organize Bush’s second inauguration in January. In recent months, Lott also has made a determined effort to ingratiate himself with some of the Senate leaders who helped depose him — although his relationship with the White House appears to remain strained. This new, cooperative spirit in the Senate has raised a few eyebrows among Lott’s colleagues, who wonder whether he’s plotting a leadership comeback. Lott does little to discourage speculation that he might make another run at a leadership job. “If the right circumstances came along, I might do it again,” he said. Lott said he finds Senate whip the most appealing post, because the whip is in the thick of everything but “doesn’t have to make every damn decision,” as Lott puts it.

It all depends on how the next year or two shake out. Lott has to decide for certain that he will run for a fourth term in 2006, though he says that is his intention. Frist plans to retire from the Senate next year, and his successor is all but certain to be Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the current majority whip. Sen. Rick Santorum, the No. 3 Republican, is slotted to move into McConnell’s current post. But Santorum is expected to face a reelection fight in Pennsylvania next year. If he loses, that could be Lott’s opening.

Fascinating. Lott is a master politician, having climbed to the leadership of first the House and then the Senate. In my view, he was ineffective as Majority Leader, unable to rally the troops to get an agenda passed and constantly steamrolled by Bill Clinton.

Still, there’s something admirable about his tenacity.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Eric says:

    There seems to be a chasm between politicians who are popular with other politicians and those who are popular with, y’know, the voters (outside of their home districts.) It’s almost like they’re “critically acclaimed” bands that no one else listens to. And these are the guys who consistantly wind up in leadership positions within the parties. Who was the last Majority or Minority leader who was well known and well-liked nationally? Tip O’Neil? (One could argue Newt, but one could also argue just as strenuously against him.)

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Still, there’s something admirable about his tenacity.

    Yeah… he’s kinda like a cockroach.

  3. James Joyner says:

    It’s just the nature of congressional leadership that they’re overshadowed by presidents. Bob Dole was reasonably well liked and respected, certainly. Frist is considered by many at having a legit shot at the White House.

  4. elmore says:

    what ever happended to Senator Lott’s “efforts” to raise money for Minority Scholarships??

  5. McGehee says:

    But Santorum is expected to face a reelection fight in Pennsylvania next year. If he loses, that could be Lott’s opening.

    I don’t think so. Favors are one thing, but readmitting that foul-up to the caucus leadership would make a “bonehead” move look like pure genius.

    My bet is that if he gets that opening he ends up getting blindsided by some up-and-coming second-termer.