Pundits Pose as Lott’s Judge, Jury

A Bob Schieffer question on Face the Nation said everything anyone needed to know about the weekend talk shows.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., just back from a tour of the explosive Gulf States region, was greeted this way by host Schieffer: "Obviously, the first thing we have to ask about is Trent Lott."

The shows were almost wall-to-wall jury verdicts on Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., (guilty!) or opportunities for bipartisan flogging of his comments, his apologies, and his capacity to lead. Republicans and conservative pundits offered the harshest criticism, while most Democrats, possibly enjoying the meltdown, insisted that Lott’s fate was an internal Republican matter.

David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, on The News Hour, is the presumptive "Pundit of the Week." Brooks had the advantage of going first, on Friday night, but his analysis played out as the Sunday shows unfolded. Speaking of Senate Republicans, Brooks observed:

"They're not waiting for the body to be cold, because there's a lot of maneuvering going on. And one of the things all the candidates are aware of is that the person who sticks the knife in is not the person who naturally [gets] the job. There is no interest [or] anybody's interest in being the first one to say, 'I'm against Trent Lott', because there are a lot of people who remain supportive of Trent Lott and you want to win the votes of those people if you are going to run for the Majority Leader. So you have got to seem somewhat supportive of Lott and then slip it."

Host George Stephanopolous offered "the person who sticks the knife" on This Week. In a ballyhooed exclusive that was picked up on other shows while in progress, Stephanopolous reported that Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., had become the first Republican to express reservations about Lott’s capacity to lead. Stephanopolous called his scoop a "cluster bomb," while the Washington Post’s George Will said it was "a pebble, but it could start an avalanche."

Meanwhile, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a potential successor, appeared on Fox News Sunday and This Week to support Lott, while Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., another ambitious potential successor, did the same on Meet the Press. Both took great pains to stress that President Bush was the image of the Republican Party, not Trent Lott.

McConnell issued a "threat" to those who might want the Senate to censure Lott. A resolution of censure is "amendable," McConnell observed, and amendments adding others, such as Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WVa., could be introduced. Byrd used the "n" word on Fox News Sunday many months ago.

Somewhat surprisingly, Kweisi Mfume, leader of the NAACP, did not object to adding others to a proposed Senate resolution of censure. He noted on This Week that there was "no diversity in the Senate."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., on Meet the Press, said he would only support a censure resolution that was "bipartisan."

There were short segments on other topics, but the president’s new economic team, the resignations of George Mitchell and Henry Kissinger from the 9/11 Commission, North Korean nukes, and the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq got short shrift amidst the Trent Lott vortex.

Never Satisfied

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, basking in the Republican crisis on The News Hour, still couldn’t help but speculate on what might have been if only Strom Thurmond had been born a few months earlier. The Trent Lott tribute would have impacted the November elections and avoided Democratic losses.

Punishments for Lott

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a veteran of the civil rights movement, suggested on Meet the Press that the Mississippi senator accompany him on a spring trip to visit historic sites in Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham, Alabama.

Retiring congressman, Rep. J. C. Watts, R-Okla., under far more difficult questioning by host Tim Russert than Lewis received, suggested Lott meet with TV personality/journalist Tavis Smiley and the NAACP’s Kweisi Mfume.

Brit Hume of Fox, noting that Lott will continue his "apology tour" on Monday with an appearance on Black Entertainment Television, suggested additional events: "On Tuesday, crawl on broken glass; on Wednesday, lie on a bed of hot coals; on Thursday, submit to a public flogging."

Be Like Thad

Mark Shields on The News Hour and the Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt on Capital Gang sung the praises of Mississippi’s junior Republican senator, Thad Cochran, for succeeding in Lott’s state without "playing the race card." Punditwatch doesn’t recall Cochran being noticed by the pair before this controversy.

Best Conservative Blasts at Lott

Kate O’Beirne, National Review, on Capital Gang: "Thoughtless and careless."

Rich Lowry, National Review, on Face the Nation: "Ineffective and clumsy."

George Will on This Week: "Inadequate mediocrity."

What About Me?

Tom Friedman of the New York Times, appearing on Meet the Press, was the only pundit not asked for his take on Trent Lott.

Should Lott Stay On?

Former Education Secretary William Bennett, on Face the Nation: "I don’t think he can, I don’t think he will, and I don’t think he should."

Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, on This Week: "He should not, cannot and will not."

Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va. Unable to obsess on golf, fishing or a weed-free lawn, he chose to stalk the weekend talk show pundits and their syndicated print brethren. His "Punditwatch" column appears in Tony Adragna's Quasipundit.

Respond to the Writer