Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) is picking up strong support from conservatives for a return to the party's leadership, including serious consideration for the top job, being vacated by retiring Bill Frist (R-TN).
Seems Lott has successfully resuscitated his image. How? By successfully portraying himself as an insider's outsider — someone who can be a team player, but isn't afraid to stand up to President Bush or Frist. And with Bush's poll numbers tanking and mid-term elections just around the corner, Republican outsiders are suddenly in again.
It's a far cry from 2002, when Lott had what he called a "little bump in the road."
At the 100th birthday party for the late Strom Thurmond (R-SC), Lott said: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
President Bush said Lott's comments "do not reflect the spirit of our country," and many of Lott's Republican colleagues agreed. Barely two weeks after the racially divisive remarks, Lott stepped down as majority leader, replaced by Frist.
Lott, forced from power, became something of an insider's outsider, at a time when the GOP voted en masse for the Bush agenda. But times have changed. Even Frist, the Senate face for the Bush agenda, has recently detached himself from some parts of the Bush agenda (with one eye on a 2008 presidential run).
But Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, another top candidate to replace Frist, has not detached himself from Bush. For example, McConnell endorsed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Lott thus far has not.
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania substantially trails state treasurer Robert Casey in recent polls in his bid for re-election next year. That may leave him out of the GOP leadership altogether. Perhaps in response to his own uphill climb for re-election, Santorum has begun detaching himself from the Bush agenda, most noticeably by remarking negatively on Bush's handling of Social Security reform. Like Lott, he has not endorsed Miers.