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Trent Lott: If
by Brian S. Wise, Fifth Columnist
17 December 2002 

The Trent Lott matter has been broken down into a series of speculative declarations, all beginning with “if.”

If Senator Lott has any substantive say in the matter, he will stand to take a huge beating for the next three weeks, just prior to the Big Republican Pow-Wow on Leadership (06 January), and will retain his leadership, anyway. Whether or not he should retain that leadership position is something (I don’t mind telling you) that is personally undecided, but this much is certain: If absolutely nothing else, what Trent Lott said – and for that matter, has said in the past – wasn’t smart, and if a politician prefers to get off a racial blast here and there, he should save it for the Friars Club. However …

If Senator Lott is removed from leadership, there persists this nasty rumor that he may resign his Senate seat entirely, as opposed to suffering the indignity of demotion. Should that happen, my understanding of Mississippi law is as follows: If resignation were to come within the 2002 calendar year, Mississippi Governor Ron Musgrove, a Democrat, would be able to appoint a temporary Senator for 90 days, at which time a special election would be held to fill the seat, one presumes, for the remainder of Lott’s term. However, should Lott resign in 2003, say on or about the time of the Great Republican Pow-Wow on Leadership, Governor Musgrove can appoint a Senator to serve until November 2003, when a general election could be held, shifting the balance of power back to what would essentially be a 50-50 split.

Which means what? Were it to occur, not only would Lott’s resignation represent a unique display of egotism and cowardice rarely seen in American politics, but it would do immediate and, in the short term, irreparable damage to the Republican party and its legislative goals, not to forget judge confirmation, and so forth. The Senator’s ego being bruised is something that can be tolerated and well-healed over time. A shifting of power at such a critical time, not only for Republicanism in general but for the Bush administration specifically, cannot. However, it should be said that …

If Trent Lott is booted from leadership, it will only be in small part because of his stand-up routine; most of all, it will be because he’s not much of a leader, and this controversy is merely the latest in a continuing string of nonsense. No one has made the case more succinctly than National Review Online: “The advantage of maintaining Lott as Majority Leader as opposed to any number of his colleagues – not just [Don] Nickles, but Jon Kyl, Mitch McConnell, Rick Santorum – is nil. He can only be a drag. Conservatives should be able to argue for constitutionalist judges, race-blind governmental policies, tighter immigration laws, welfare reform, and limited government generally without the dead weight of a Senate Majority Leader who has created a cloud over himself and his party through his own thoughtlessness.”

And, “Many southern whites of a certain generation have a shameful past on civil-rights issues. This doesn't necessarily make them reprehensible people, or mean that they are racists today. But, when they are public figures, it is reasonable to expect from them an honest reckoning with their past, and, of course, an awareness that a reckoning is necessary.” What’s more, “Many conservatives will be tempted to defend Lott because of the nature of some of the attacks on him. It's an understandable impulse. But it is possible for someone simultaneously to suffer unfair attacks, handle himself and his predicament poorly, and be an underwhelming political figure. Trent Lott has managed a trifecta.” So …

If Republicanism as a whole hopes to advance the greater tenets of its philosophy, it can only do so by reaching out to minorities, most of whom vote for Democrats. There will always be something intoxicating about Republicanism’s core values – we expect the individual to be more responsible for himself; we want taxes lower, as to afford everyone the opportunity to get by the best they can on their own merits; we want Government to be smaller, as to get out of the way of your freedoms; we want to defend your liberties and freedoms with a military that can cripple any power that dares to legitimately stand against us, and so forth – and whoever should lend them merit them belongs.

That being the case, as minority populations continue to grow, a static number of whites voting Republican just won’t get the job done, and the GOP could soon find itself taking a beating, one election cycle after another. It’s certainly no secret that Republicans have spent the last years reaching out to minorities as a means of increasing its base; the effort is admirable, valuable, and shouldn’t be sacrificed. Should Senator Lott remain intact, it should be with the firmest possible Republican trust that he’s worth the trouble. If not, he should go.

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