GOP Right Long Frustrated with Lott ; Lott Flounders - Not Just Because of His Words, but Because His Tenure Has Disappointed Conservatives

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Even before his racially charged remark heard round the world, Trent Lott was no favorite with some of the nation's most vocal conservatives, who are now lobbing the biggest boulders to hasten his ouster.

Yes, they don't like the fact that a careless remark at a birthday party could fling open half a century of Republican Party history on race. Yes, it would have been better to use the weeks before a new Congress convenes to talk about how the GOP will use its hard-won control of the Senate.

But the real beef against the man now slated to be Senate majority leader is that he has never been the tough fighter for their goals that many conservatives wanted on Capitol Hill.

"The main concern is that Trent Lott is not a good messenger for the conservative message and the Republican Party," says David Boaz of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "For all of Trent Lott's conservative rhetoric, we don't see him opposing very many government programs. We see him making deals to see that Mississippi is included in these programs."

Such comments reflect how deep concerns about Lott run in conservative beltway circles. The think tanks and other groups that do the heavy lifting for Republicans in campaign seasons resent the insider politics they see as dominating Congress once voting day is over. Lott is not a leader of any part of what these activists call the "center-right coalition."

"He's not a leader for us on taxes, pro-life, or guns. He's just a vote," says a leading conservative activist. "He thinks and acts like a parochial Mississippi politician."

This is not to say Lott's ouster is assured. The personal loyalties, accommodations, and deals that make up a good insider game on Capitol Hill may yet save Lott's job. Wednesday, GOP senators including Ted Stevens of Alaska, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania expressed their support for Lott and said he would prevail.

Still, the opposition to Lott has more on the right has become concerted.

While the Congressional Black Caucus called for Lott's censure, not his resignation, top conservative groups early on signaled they wanted him out. On Dec. 10, before the tempest over Lott had reached full force, the Family Research Council blasted him for reinforcing "the false stereotype that white conservatives are racists at heart."

"Republicans ought to ask themselves ... should the GOP look to a new Senate leader who is not encumbered by this unnecessary baggage," said Ken Connor, president of the council, a key advocacy group on conservative social policy.

The group had hoped that under Lott, the Senate would do more on abortion, a ban on human cloning, pro-marriage welfare reform, and permanent tax relief for families.

Many conservatives welcomed Lott's rise to Senate leadership in 1996. They hoped that Lott, an ally of Newt Gingrich during his years in the House, would bring to the Senate the same take-no- prisoners style that fired up the GOP insurgency that wrested control away from the Democrats in 1994. …


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