Robert Novak

 The added factor is the worst hostility between Republican and Democratic leaders since I began Senate-watching in 1957. Frist broke precedent by traveling to South Dakota to campaign against Democratic Leader Tom Daschle's re-election. Republicans who must deal with Daschle regard him as one of the coldest men they have met in politics, who truly subscribes to the Kennedy clan's axiom of "Don't get mad, get even." Daschle could not conceal his glee two weeks ago in humiliating Frist on the class action bill.

 While it is easier to be a minority leader than a majority leader, Democratic command in the Senate is still remarkable. Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, who lives on the Senate floor, controls day-to-day operations more effectively than anybody in the majority. What's more, Daschle and Reid are leading Democrats who are more closely unified than their Republican counterparts.

 Some junior Republican senators look to Majority Whip Mitch McConnell as a more knowledgeable and skilled parliamentary battler than Frist. But McConnell has not fulfilled hopes, when he became whip after the 2002 election, that he would be Harry Reid's constant shadow on the Senate floor. He underwent triple-bypass heart surgery in February 2003 just as he was taking on his new duties, and he may not have yet recovered his full powers.

 The finger-pointing by Republican senators is natural. How could they lose the class action bill when they had a clear majority? How could they fail to win a majority on the gay marriage amendment? How could they fail to pass a budget? Why did they succumb to Teddy Kennedy on the tobacco buyout? The answers revolve around the caliber of leadership.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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