Saturday, July 30, 2005


Don't pay attention to him, that's exactly what he wants

Bill Frist has proclaimed a break with the Bush Administration by coming out in favor of stem cell research.

This is just an early announcement of his candidacy for president in the 2008 election.

1) It's generally good strategy to proclaim independence from the second term incumbent, especially if (as is the case with Bush) he's not doing that well in the approval ratings.

2) Frist is telling us that he's going to run center-right rather than hard right.

3) Frist is just doing what Republicans do. The stem cell debate within the Republican ranks is a question of principle (religious right opposition) versus money (there's a biotech gold mine at stake with stem cell research). Republicans are never really comfortable with standing for principle over money: Sure, it's good for a few laughs, but how long did you really thing they'd keep that one up?


True enough as far as this goes, Oscar, and certainly consistent with what Tommy Thompson did in Wisconsin, where he was anti-abortion up to the point where it interfered with economic development in the biotech arena.

But there is more at play here as well. Frist has cannily played both ends to the middle.

First, he has given the White House plenty of cover by ensuring that the stem cell bill won't come up for a very long time. First, he delayed the vote to permit multiple introductions of "alternative" stem cell bills in the senate, so that both the president and the senate opponents will have something they can be "for" that sounds like stem cell research, even when it isn't.

Second, he announced that his support for the House's Castle-DeGette bill is contingent upon amendments to add new forms of oversight (most all of which already exist in federal law, by the by) thus ensuring that if it passes in the Senate in an amended form it will then need to go to conference and be re-introduced on both House and Senate -- how many months do you think this is going to take?

Finally, he has carefully reiterated his quid pro quo, one that will make the far right happy, to wit, opposition to non-reproductive uses of cloning technology to create customized stem cell lines for genetic and therapeutic research. This is Brownback's baby, and if it passes as the price of expanding stem cell funding, it is a bad bargain as it criminalizes a form of basic science research, which is a very very scary precedent.

Frist has been having weekly chats with Orrin Hatch (a stem cell and cloning research supporter despite his anti-abortion credentials) and I think Frist has correctly figured out that he never had a chance with the far right anyway, as they prefer Santorum, Brownback and Romney to Frist. So he's working on an almost-but-not-quite far right strategy for the primaries, with an eye toward the McCain voters, while also trying to keep enough of a hand in with the lunatic right so that they won't stay home in November if he gets the nomination.

He's also working deals with Specter (another strong research proponent) so that Frist can look strong on all the S CT nominations, both Roberts and the inevitable showdown at the OK Corrall moment for the chief's position.
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