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
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
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
"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. …