Sen. Trent Lott's upcoming book, Herding Cats, is far less catty than anyone could have anticipated.
The book was expected to be explosive, given how famous Lott is for his temper and ability to hold a grudge, and thus apparently ready to take no prisoners in gaining revenge for the political downfall he suffered in the aftermath of his remarks at a Strom Thurmond birthday party.
But the book's publication date was delayed at least twice, seemingly at a time when the political winds were shifting in a way advantageous to Lott. Regan Books held back galleys, and rumors swirled that Lott and his ghostwriting team were redrafting the book to make it less venomous. If that's what they did, they did a great job. In the end, only politicians either on their way out or out already get the brunt of Lott's wrath.
Lott heaps praise mainly on three colleagues: Sens. Jon Kyl, Rick Santorum, and Mitch McConnell. Kyl and Santorum he identifies as allies and friends from their time together in the House of Representatives. McConnell is praised for his leadership in the Senate during Lott's Strom Thurmond episode. Only expected-to-retire Sen. Bill Frist -- who replaced Lott as Republican leader -- and already-retired Sen. Don Nickles take much of a hit, and it's pretty weak-kneed at that. Sen. George Allen appears to be the only current political entity targeted by Lott's enmity.
The book, according to reporters who have read it, is a bland read of about 320 pages, focusing on three or four major political events in Lott's time in Washington: his rise in leadership from the House to the Senate, his role in the tobacco liability case during the Clinton years, the impeachment trial of President Clinton, and the Strom Thurmond controversy.
Lott takes credit for a number of things, and where he doesn't take credit, he downplays the role of others. For example, he credits Rep. Newt Gingrich for the "Contract With America," but apparently only in way to claim that he wanted the Senate Republicans to be involved too.
Most interesting is Lott's description of his relationship with political strategist Dick Morris, who served as consultant in Lott's victorious Senate run and who positioned as the broker between Bill Clinton and Lott. Lott proudly discusses his back door communications, facilitated by Morris and then chief of staff Erskine Bowles, with the Clinton White House to achieve legislative successes. He describes his pride, while serving in the House, in acting as a kind of spy for the House Republican leadership against fellow Republicans.
"He clearly is using this as the opening salvo in a political comeback to the leadership," says a reporter who has read the book. "He takes credit for not only coming up with the 'nuclear option' in judicial nominees, but also the nickname."
As it stands, Kyl, Santorum, and McConnell are all viewed as viable potential options for leadership after the 2006 elections. McConnell is already deputy leader. Santorum, head of the caucus, though, is in a tough re-election race and many inside the party wonder if he will return.
"McConnell and Kyl are his two biggest threats to returning to the leadership," says a Republican Senate staffer. "Kyl is well-liked. He's smart and his conservative. McConnell now has the track record to be a leader, and Lott certainly has supported him and advised him over the years. He's also conservative."
Some Senate insiders believe Lott will make a play for the leadership position, even if that means running over McConnell to get there. "In the book, you'd think that McConnell was one of this greatest friends," says the reporter. "But the undercurrent of the book is that Lott is a man who prides himself on having the votes, and I don't think he'd be publishing this book if he didn't think he had them for his next phase in politics."
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