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Senator Specter’s Promise and Majority Leader Frist’s Opportunity

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My World Magazine column for this week asks whether Senator Specter’s promises of a year ago had an expiration date.

As the Thanksgiving weekend presidential straw poll and related questions below indicate, the GOP’s blog-savvy, activist base –self-selected, of course, but representative nonetheless– is put out with the GOP Senate majority, with nearly 90% assessing the Republicans in the upper chamber of Congress as too collaborative with the obstructionist Democrats.

And with more than 12,300 votes cast as of this moment, Majority Leader Frist has received just 74!

The Senate’s GOP’s go-along-to-get-along attitude explains Senator Frist’s calamitous political situation, and should also dictate his moves when the Senate gets back from its very, very long Thanksgiving recess in mid-December: Get nominee Boyle a vote. Get nominee Kavanaugh a hearing and a schedule for a floor vote. Get a schedule worked out for all current and future judicial nominees for 2006. If Chairman Specter balks, convene the party caucus and remove him from the committee. Get the Patriot Act through the Senate.

In other words, Senator Frist cannot afford to waste December, not if he wants to be a serious contender for the GOP nomination in ’08. He’ll be out of the Senate in a year and running for president on exactly what? Having made Senator Reid happy, or having kept Senator Specter pleased?

Senator Frist is down 24 points with only a few days before the Senate’s half-time. He needs to put some points on the board before the Christmas break, and to come back strong in January. Judges and national security. National security and judges. It isn’t complicated.

And if his consultants tell him that internet polls don’t matter and that it is way too early to worry about what the base thinks, please ask yourself whether the rules have changed since 2000. The internet has destroyed the reliability of the old advantages, and it has created an instant information environment that is building (or destroying) Senator Frist’s reputation as a leader on a daily basis. Every one of his future primary opponents is already practicing the line, “When Senator Frist was running the Senate, he couldn’t deliver ____. Why would we trust him to get better at delivering as the nominee or the president?”

It is 25 months before the Iowa primary, and already the Republican race is reaching a turning point. If the Majority Leader doesn’t already know that, it’ll be too late for him to learn.


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