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A Whole Lott-a Trouble

Could Democrats have Trent Lott to thank for their first sound bite of Campaign 2004?

It took a few days for word of Lott's remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party to filter through Washington. But, once it did, it became Topic A in the nation's capital. Democrats eventually pounced, and now they don't seem to be releasing their grip on Lott's political jugular.

Whether or not the comments could cost Lott his GOP leadership spot still hasn't been determined. No Republican senators have publicly called for Lott to step down, but some Democrats, and some conservative pundits, have.

A quick recap: Last Thursday, Lott said America "wouldn't have had these problems over all these years" if Sen. Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948. Lott crowed about his home state of Mississippi's support for Thurmond's Dixiecrat candidacy, which was based, in part, on opposition to civil rights for blacks.

"When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him," Lott said, with a chuckle. "We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years."

As it turns out, Lott made almost identical comments 22 years ago at a rally for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign that Thurmond also attended. Lott also came under fire a few years ago for speaking to the Council of Conservative Citizens, which has a record of white supremacist views.

Lott's handling of the firestorm has been as ham-handed as the comments themselves.

Lott issued an initial statement, not an apology, on Monday. He said his comments about Thurmond during the "lighthearted celebration" were "not an endorsement of his positions of over 50 years ago, but of the man and his life."

When that failed to quiet the storm, Lott issued a more contrite statement Monday night. "A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past," he said. "Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended."

Lott went even further on Wednesday on a conservative radio talk show when he called the comments "poorly chosen and insensitive." Lott said, repeatedly, that he "regretted" the remarks.

As it turns out, some of Lott's fellow conservatives have been his most vocal critics.

The National Review and The Wall Street Journal – two of the most reliably right-wing publications around – smashed Lott.

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, felt compelled to remind Lott that the first Republican president was the same one who led the Union during the Civil War.

"It's ludicrous. He should remember it's the party of Lincoln," Kristol was quoted in the Washington Post as saying. On Wednesday, he called for Lott to step down from the Republican leadership team.

On his radio show, conservative lion Rush Limbaugh said: "What Lott said is utterly indefensible and stupid. I don't even want to attempt to explain or defend it. Yes, there's a double standard on this stuff, but you have to take this into consideration before you open your stupid mouth."

Conservative newspaper columnist Robert George and conservative pundit Laura Ingraham wondered if Lott's comments would hurt GOP attempts at making inroads at black voters.

"If this clip is played and played and played in the black churches, all around the country Republicans are going to have hell to pay," Ingraham said on MSNBC.

Ken Connor, president of the conservative Family Research Council, also called for Lott to step down from the GOP leadership. "Such thoughtless remarks - and the senator has an unfortunate history of such gaffes - simply reinforce the suspicion that conservatives are closet racists and secret segregationists," Connor said.

Connor and his cohorts have reason to be concerned. If this week has been any indication, Democrats are sure to use Lott's comments – captured in beautiful Technicolor – on an endless loop between now and 2004.

by Douglas Kiker

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