Why I think Bill Frist is not serious

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.