I just wrote something on Bill Frist and I got an email from, presumably, a Frist fan asking why I don’t take Frist seriously. He pointed me to a positive review by Hindraker and by a guy who went to Princeton. Ed from Captain’s Quarters was also there and has transcripts of the meeting here and here. So first, let’s state the obvious. Bill Frist is an impressive guy. You don’t become one of the leading people in the world in multiple fields without being an impressive guy. Hindraker and TigerHawk agree.

The question is his qualifications as a candidate, campaigner, and a leader. First, of all, National Journal just published their new WH 08 rankings. What did they say about Frist, from the “The Rest” category:

He’s got a big problem in Tennessee: Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. is not going away, and if he pulls the upset, Frist’s fledgling ’08 ambitions are toast. On the bright side, Bill Gates will gladly bring Frist into his fold, and he could probably do more to restore his public perception through philanthropy.

That last is particularly damning.

First, what are Bill Frist’s negatives and do people know about them? This is what people seem to have against Bill Frist:

  1. Conservatives don’t like him because of his vocal position on stem-cell research and the sense that he did not push through judges. I live in Washington, and most conservatives think that Bill Frist has been a disappointment.
  2. With one of the largest GOP majorities in modern Senate history, he has not really accomplished much as leader.
  3. Furthermore, the Senate has been viewed as largely unreliable by conservatives.

Now, it appears that most voters don’t know this. A recent IA poll indicated that 32% of IA GOP voters have a favorable view of him, and only 5% have an unfavorable view. And 34% know nothing, so he has room to grow.

In fact, Chris Cilliza points out that he should take comfort in this poll. But the way that I read it was that he came in 3rd by being the most well-known GOPer who was not Giuliani, McCain, or Pataki. In other words, he was the most well-known non-New Yorker or McCain.

Second, ultimately, I believe that the 2008 primary is going to be about security and keeping the moral conservative base satisfied. Does Frist have any national security experience other than being a majority leader?

On this, Hindraker says:

Frist is deadly serious about the war on terror, the pre-eminent issue of our era. He tells a chilling story of receiving a call from President Bush a week before the recent British airline bomb plot was disrupted.

My sense from reading the Iran part of Captain Ed’s transcripts is that he is competent (and gets briefed on everything as Majority Leader). But does he have any vision? Perhaps more important, does he have any backbone? He will be subject to lines like, “You can’t trust Bill Frist to stand up to Islamofascists. He couldn’t even stand up to the Democrats.”

Third, what gap does he fill in the current field? Let us say that the field is McCain, Romney, Giuliani, and Huckabee. People voting on national security will almost certainly vote for Giuliani or McCain, so his voters will likely not have that as their first priority. He has some credibility as a social conservative, but his failure with judges and stem cell will be striking. Voters whose first priority is moral issues will almost certainly go with Huckabee, Brownback, or — perhaps Romney, if he can sell his evolution. If your issue is being a manager (then you probably don’t have the time to vote in an Iowa caucus…), probably Romney has the best creds, unless the Big Dig thing really begins to bite.

So where do you go?

And, fourth, and finally, is anyone taking him seriously? He was just in Alabama, now an early primary state. A friend was there and said that people weren’t really taking him seriously as a candidate. And he doesn’t have an operation there (note that McCain picked up the AG yesterday). A little in Iowa, perhaps. Does anyone think that he will do well at all in New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Michigan? How would it actually work?

So, count me skeptical. Real skeptical.



CapHillRat · August 31, 2006 at 3:58 PM

I noted with interest this blog post.

Sounds like a lot of personal opinion and selective slicing of others blog posts that it had almost a Kossack feel…but isnt that the joy of this medium…

It takes money, momentum and organization to win presidential elections. McCain is a frontrunner not because of his stand on the issues but because John Weaver and Terry Nelson are putting together a first rate organization and the financial network capable of raising the money it takes to win.

Romney is also putting that organization and financial network together.

Its for these reasons that Huckabee is not a serious candiate (he cant raise money and his organization in Iowa has yet to create the campaign buzz capable to propel him into the top tier (want evidence of that look at recent iowa state fair poll). His done a good job selling the DC press corps, but thats easy..just look at the NJ Insiders frontrunner from last year Allen…

Allen now is desperate to win his senate race and fighting off charges that he is a bullying race baiter…those comments which btw deep sixed his chances of raising big money from the bush pioneers and rangers…will weigh him down like a bag of anchors should he run…that is if this former #1 NJ Insiders pick survives his senate race

Frist is different…Frist is the Majority Leader…he does have name id in states like IA and room to grow…he also has a very active PAC…you have ignored previous Cilizza posts dealing with the likely massive direct mail list he is building (as evidenced by the expenditures Cilliza reports)…and you have already touched on his smart internet outreach…now lets look at the organization/fundraising side…you ignored another Cilizza post about landing fundraising whales…Frist has nabbed a number of bush rangers and pioneers…he has likely built up a financial network from his days as Leader (evidenced again by his record breaking PAC totals over last two cycles)…and he spent two years at the helm of the NRSC…where again he would have been in a position to build a substantial financial network…from a staffing perspective he also nabbed Brian Kennedy, former IA state party ED and one of the top iowa operatives…

Frist isnt a great poltician…he isnt great on stem cells, he isnt greta on immigration…but he has been as effective a leader as I have seen in my decades following politics…the position is thankless…if you had witnessed first hand Lott and Dole you would understand what I mean…

Finally, in your enthusiasm to counter the Frist supporter who emailed you…I would like to suggest a more measured view of Frist and wait and see…you have a lot of what ifs…but not a lot fo facts…


btw…I havent seen a national poll where Ford is leading Corker…seemed a little hysterical about Ford…maybe you just bought into his most recent ad…

eye · August 31, 2006 at 4:19 PM

Ummm. I quoted Chuck Todd. I said absolutely nothing about Ford and Corker. I think that Corker is going to win.

Otherwise, I agree with most of the things you said. Frist does have an organization, but he does have structural problems. I don\’t see what his issues or record are that are going to allow him to distinguish himself. And if he isn\’t going to perform in IA, then he is going nowhere in NH.

Can he stop people in SC? Is that too late? Probably. As I said, going nowhere.

CapHillRat · August 31, 2006 at 4:36 PM

Eye thanks for posting my comment. I didn’t catch that Corker comment was from Chuck Todd…that explains things…thanks for the clarification.

Btw, I am a still a big fan of Chuck Todd’s Washingtonian puff piece on George Allen for President published in the spring of 05 right around when NR did the “Time is Now” piece on Allen…clearly the time isn’t now for Allen these days…

Overall, good blog and keep it up. Thanks again.


MarcusAurelius · August 31, 2006 at 4:39 PM

I disagree with CapHillRat….issues (and messaging) matter at least as much as money, momementum and organization.

But, Eye, you are way off on Frist.

Frist’s stem cell position hurts him with many conservatives. But what evidence do you have that Frist has failed to push through judges? Frist has put the filibuster of judicial nominations back in its cage. He has gotten 2 excellent Supreme Court Justices confirmed. And he’s gotten 87% of Bush’s nominees confirmed….the highest such % since Reagan.

And what other serious candidate can appeal to moral conservative base you think is so important? Certainly not Romney who you mention … Romney was pro-choice until he started dreaming big … and being in favor of abortion is a much bigger deal than Frist’s stem cell position. Huckabee and Brownback? These guys certainly would appeal to moral conservatives…but do you really think either has any possible shot at creating the political and financial operation necessary to be anything more than a fluke? Come on….Brownback could barely fund his own Senate race.

Finally, you have an anonymous friend in Alabama who doesn’t like Frist? That isn’t a particularly compelling argument. How about the new RT Strategies poll that shows Frist coming in fourth nationally? It shows Frist significantly above Romney, Allen, Brownback, Huckabee, Pataki, etc. Maybe that kind of evidence is slightly more valuable than an anonymous anecdote?

eye · August 31, 2006 at 5:00 PM

His problem with judges is that he was perceived to be a wimp. He didn\’t fight for them.

I agree that Frist is doing well in the polls right now. But he\’s the only name people know other than Condi, McCain, Giuliani. The only name ID. (that\’s why he came in third in IA)

He will have an organization, but the constituency is hard. And, again, Huckabee, probably more than Brownback, you are right, may be able to build something in IA. Does he go farther? Probably not, unless he pulls something off.
But if Frist is going somewhere, you need a theory for how he does well in IA, NH, SC, AL, and MI and probably wins at least one. He probably needs to become one of the last two standing at that point. What\’s your theory?

CapHillRat · August 31, 2006 at 5:14 PM

Here is one final thought for this evening, McCain will be 72 in 2008…what if his health prevents him from running…it is wide open

As for IA, NH, SC, AL and MI…as I remember the what ifs for mccain winning NH were non-existent a year+ from the 2000 primary…heck they were non-existent a few weeks before the primary…

what matters in each of these states is the momentum in the final 2 weeks before the vote…not a year+ before…

The only things that matter now…are organization and fundraising…it is premature to start discussing the how to win scenarios…to win you need to get there…and Frist is on his way…as are McCain, Romney and possibly Giuliani…and on the Dem side Hillary, Edwards, Warner and Kerry…

For political junkies…this is going to be one heck of an election…

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