I spent part of the day today with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. He is, of course, a very impressive guy: a physician, a heart and lung transplant surgeon, an upstart politician, a hands-on doctor in places like Sudan and New Orleans, and one of the most powerful people in our government. Despite those obvious accomplishments and Frist’s skills as a legislator, I’ve always felt that he lacks the executive persona necessary to be a strong Presidential candidate.
Maybe. But I was impressed by the close-up contact I had today. 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. The message at that time, communicated to less than a handful of top federal officials, was that a terrorist plan was known to be in progress which could kill several thousand Americans, but there was no assurance that it could be stopped. It was stopped, thankfully, and news accounts suggest that the very terrorist surveillance programs now under attack by the Democrats were instrumental in saving thousands of American lives. Senator Frist is fully committed to using all of the appropriate tools at our command to win the war against Islamic terror, and September will see a series of legislative initiatives designed to strengthen our defenses against the terrorists.
Frist is also acutely aware of the relationship between petroleum prices and the funding of Islamic terror. Energy independence is not just a desirable economic goal, it is a national security mandate. Hundreds of millions of dollars are needlessly being poured into the coffers of terror-supporting states because the Democratic Party blocks every effort to develop our own energy resources.
The Majority Leader also made a point on taxes that surprised nearly all of his listeners. If you take a family of four, with an average American income of $64,000 per year, and assume that the Democrats regain control of either the House or the Senate and block the extension of the Bush tax cuts, as they are committed to doing, what would be the impact on that average family? A federal tax increase of 58%. That’s what the Democratic Party stands for.
Based on my observations today, Senator Frist is a highly viable Presidential candidate. His intelligence, competence, judgment and reliability cannot be questioned. His views are compatible with those of the Republican base across a broad range of issues. He needs to beef up his Presidential persona, by, for example, learning what to do with his legs when he is addressing a group. (Then again, President Bush never mastered that particular skill.) But such cosmetic issues are minor.
When Republican voters start thinking seriously about a candidate for 2008, if they are concerned by the quirkiness of both John McCain–whom, by the way, Frist was careful to praise today–and Rudy Giuliani, should he run, and if they look for a more mainstream conservative candidate, Frist should be at the top of the heap. With all due respect to Senator George Allen, it would seem that Senator Frist has a more powerful claim on the loyalties of the party’s faithful.
Consider me impressed.