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Scratch another Republican off the 2008 list

By Doug Patton
web posted August 1, 2005

On ABC’s “This Week” program, George Will questioned how Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s change of position on the issue of embryonic stem cell research could simultaneously hurt his chances of becoming president and still be politically motivated. Will’s contention that both things cannot be true is just plain wrong.

Bill FristBill Frist, like so many before him, has committed a massive political blunder by mistaking adoration from the Washington media establishment for popularity with voters. Speculation now abounds among the talking heads that Frist is “putting principle over politics.” Those people live in a dream world. A man driven to seek the most powerful office in the world does not throw caution to the wind on an issue as central to the values of his party as this one.

No, this is clearly a case of Potomac fever. The Washington landscape is littered with those who have fallen victim to that politically fatal disease, and the United States Senate seems to be an incubator for it. Just as Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska mistakenly believe they are scoring political points by rushing to the microphone whenever they see a chance to bash their own president, Frist has made a similar miscalculation.

The truth is that the base of the GOP is so disgusted with the lack of loyalty to the conservative cause in the GOP-controlled senate that none of these men has a prayer of getting the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. And as the first lesson in Politics 101 clearly teaches, he who cannot be nominated cannot be elected.

Frist seemed briefly to be on the right track in his quest for the presidency, and he was beginning to win over conservatives who initially distrusted his positions on social issues. As the senate’s only physician, his courageous stand to stop the murder of helpless Terri Schiavo endeared him to those in the conservative, pro-life base of the Republican Party, which holds a lock on the nominating process simply by virtue of the fact that they vote — religiously.

Frist should consult the record of his moderate senate colleague from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, for advice on how to lose the Republican nomination for president. You may recall that Alexander, whose resume` at the time included serving as Tennessee’s governor and as secretary of education in the cabinet of President George H. W. Bush, tried to run for the GOP presidential nomination himself in 1996. Remember the plaid flannel shirts? He got nowhere.

Frist might also look to the misfortunes of another former governor and senator, California’s Pete Wilson. After abandoning his pro-life position, Wilson forfeited any chance of becoming the Republican nominee for president. His weak run for the highest office in the land was almost an embarrassment.

Republicans who believe they can gloss over the burning issues of our time — the war on terror, illegal immigration, protecting traditional marriage, the right to bear arms and especially the sanctity of human life — are in for a backlash in 2008. The base of the GOP is fiercely conservative, and those who disregard that base simply cannot be nominated.

The influence of the mainstream media, as it is still laughingly known, no longer exists outside New York and Washington, DC. Among informed voters, it has been replaced by talk radio, cable television and the Internet. Yet, the iconic elites who comprise the most exclusive club in the world, the United States Senate, still don’t get it. This could go a long way toward explaining why so few of them have ascended to the presidency. Add Sen. Bill Frist to their number.

Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a political speechwriter and policy advisor for federal, state and local candidates, elected officials and public policy organizations. His weekly column can be read in newspapers across the country and on selected Internet web sites, including www.GOPUSA.com. Readers can e-mail him at dpatton@neonramp.com.

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