Alexander's leadership exit move was coy; Tea Party response was anything but

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 10:05pm
Lamar Alexander (Photo courtesy of the Office of Sen. Lamar Alexander) 

Sen. Lamar Alexander has won favor with pundits for his decision to quit his Republican leadership position in January to focus on reaching bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems. But he’s drawing scorn from the GOP’s Tea Party wing, which sees any attempt to accommodate Democrats as a betrayal
of principle.

“Quite honestly, Alexander’s a nice, gentle man. But the fact of the matter is, he’s not up for the fight,” said Mark Skoda, the founder and chairman of the Memphis Tea Party.

“People are fed up with his machinations to reach out to the quote-unquote other side,” he told The City Paper.  “Meanwhile, Democrats are calling the Tea Party everything in the book. It just gets more and more horrific. Lamar should be calling them out, and he’s not.”

It hasn’t helped that, over the weekend, Alexander hosted a re-election campaign fundraiser on Nashville’s Music Row for some of the Senate’s few remaining moderate Republicans — including Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Indiana’s Richard Lugar — all of whom are detested by the Tea Party for their willingness to compromise.

“Apparently Al Franken and Harry Reid couldn’t clear  their schedules,” one well-known Nashville conservative wrote in an email to The City Paper on the fundraiser.

On Steve Gill’s conservative talk radio show, as Gill asked pointed questions about whether a Republican senator should reach across the aisle, a clearly frustrated Alexander tried to make himself understood.

“I’m a very Republican Republican, as you well know,” said Alexander, who phoned in to the show from Washington. “But if you’re going get 60 votes in the Senate, we’ll have to find some things that Democrats and Republicans agree on.

“I think you can still be a good Republican and look for opportunities to get results. I tried to do that as governor and was successful, and I’d like to try to do more of that here. My voting record is very Republican and will continue to be. I said when I ran for this office that I’d serve with Republican principles and independent attitude, and that’s the way I expect to continue to do it.”

The show’s callers and emailers weren’t buying the senator’s insistence that he was putting country above party, and they pounced on Alexander when he hung up and it was their turn to speak out.

“This guy has got to go,” one said.

“As a Republican’s Republican, doesn’t that make him Obama’s doormat?” another said.

Later, Gill stated the obvious: “There wasn’t a lot of love lost for him in the calls that he got.”

Alexander, who is 71, wouldn’t have to worry about the Tea Party except that he seems to want to keep his options open for 2014 when he’s up for re-election.

When he announced he won’t seek another term as Senate Republican Conference chairman, his party’s No. 3 position, he also said he plans to run for a third Senate term in three years. But most insiders have discounted that statement as not indicating that Alexander has made up his mind yet.  If he had said he planned to retire, it would have triggered a free-for-all of politicians scrambling to succeed him, and the senator was trying to prevent that from happening as long as possible.

“It’s what he had to say to keep the chaos to a minimum,” Gill said. “If he said he’s not running, he immediately becomes a lame duck. Whether he’s going to run or not again in 2014, I don’t think is determined by what he’s saying he’s going to do. He may run.  He may not run. But what he’s saying now about reaching across the aisle isn’t helping his re-election prospects. If he does run, I think he definitely will face a Tea Party primary challenge.”

Skoda doubts Alexander will run again. He said he thinks the senator is preparing to retire and thinking about his legacy.

“I believe what he’s trying to do is solidify his position in his own mind as a statesman, so he’s taking this very conciliatory approach to Democrats,” Skoda said. “He’s trying to play the elder statesman as he’s coming into the twilight of his career.” 

Tom Ingram, a campaign consultant and one of Alexander’s closet confidants, said the senator is “absolutely serious” about running again. As for the Tea Party’s complaints, “That wasn’t a consideration,” he said. “The consideration was as long as you’re in the Senate, make the most of it. If that has political consequences, deal with them when the campaign time comes.

“It’s pretty exciting for those of us around him,” Ingram added. “You’re going to see a reinvigorated, pretty exciting time in his career.”

If Alexander does run and win again, he would be 79 when his third term ended. Asked whether Alexander’s concerned about whether he might become too old to handle his Senate duties, Ingram laughed.

“The fact is you and I both have trouble keeping up with him. Age is a frame of mind and body, and both of his are very healthy. You’ve got to do something when you’re 70 or 80 years old. You can sit in a rocking chair or you can be productive if your mind and body allow it. Lamar’s never been one to sit around much.”   

20 Comments on this post:

By: Donna Locke on 10/2/11 at 10:17

I'm surprised there's even an aisle anymore.

By: yogiman on 10/2/11 at 10:33

There isn't, Donna. They've combined and are called a communist party today. What other answer could they give for allowing a usurper to take the Oval Office if you aren't walking down the aisle with him?

By: govskeptic on 10/3/11 at 5:25

Lamar and Honey had dinner with Jon Huntsman a night or two
before Huntsman announced for the Republican Primary. Jon
also made a press appearance in a plaid shirt a few days later
as well (gag). With Tom Ingram joining that Presidential campaign
I'd suggest that anyone with at least one conservative bone in their
body write both of these RINO's off as just another 2 self-servers!

By: treehugger7 on 10/3/11 at 6:30

There is nothing wrong or shameful about compromise. Grow up, TP can't always get what you want! As a democrat, I have voted for Lamar(!) as the lesser evil. Wwe see the greater evil in the statehouse right now.

By: Chris72 on 10/3/11 at 6:34

People are fed up with his machinations to reach out to the quote-unquote other side...

NO People are fed up with government as a WHOLE-democrat/republican doesn't matter. Both parties are taking away people's rights and freedoms. Democrat and Republican are both the same in the end. Neither party has the people, (you know US that elected them and they're supposed to be representing) in their best interest. They're more concerned with the lobbyists, and their cronies, and money, and power. And it will continue that way until we the people wake up and see them for what they truly are......
"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" Karl Marx. get used to that, that's where we're heading.

By: treehugger7 on 10/3/11 at 6:39

That would beat the heck out of what we got now!!

By: TonyGottlieb on 10/3/11 at 7:27

I believe many citizens have had enough of the. "we've got to come together," BS and Tom Ingram hasn't received the memo yet.

By: oldbailey on 10/3/11 at 7:32

I don't always agree with Alexander but he is wise to put distance between himself and the Tea Partiers. They're loons.

By: TRHJR on 10/3/11 at 8:13

I would RATHER be a loon than " RED " commie democrate old bailey

By: 4gold on 10/3/11 at 8:38

The Tea Party are a bunch of radical NUTS.

I am looking for a middle of the road guy. However I have been furious with Alexander for toeing the party line. I really dont know where this move came from.

Take the good from both sides and drive the far end liberals and conservatives out of office. They are accomplishing nothing. Country over Party. That is what Washington has forgotten.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!

By: 4gold on 10/3/11 at 8:43

I cant believe the unqualified people the Tea Party and the Republicans are trotting out. Palin is an airhead. Perry thought India and Pakistan were big buddies. what cave has he been living in. It is scary that the Presidential race has become a Pretty face contest. I prefer brains and I sure dont want to go back to the GW Bush plan. That is what got us here. Be careful what you ask for.

Go Dores, Preds, Titans! Go Nashville a great place to live!

By: pswindle on 10/3/11 at 8:45

The Tea Party will be the doom of the Republican Party. They are so weak that they do not have a clue in how to handle them. Alenxandra has outlived his fifteen minutes. The Tea Party has no idea how the government works, and if they had their way, there would not be a government. Then sit back and see what happens.
Bush and Cheney came as close as anyone in destroying this country. President Obama is bringing it back a little at a time, and that is what the GOP cannot stand.

By: wilcox on 10/3/11 at 9:35

For Chris72.

Karl Marx must have been reading Acts verses 2 and 4. Never figured him for a Bible thumper. Life really is like a box of chocolates isn't it?

By: frodo on 10/3/11 at 9:49

pswindle, are you sure you aren't getting reality mixed up with something you saw on the Syfy channel?

By: DDG on 10/3/11 at 11:48

I don't agree with the extreme left, but the Tea Party is pushing things too far right. They are going to find out, as the extreme left often does, that an extremist view will not get a person elected to office.

By: govskeptic on 10/3/11 at 12:53

Just like the liberal press, the democrats are all throwing a little
praise to Alexander since he has declared his real self for the remaining
years as a left of center kind of guy. It must be a real relief for his sole
after having to pretend to be a bit conservative for many yrs! He can
now concentrate even more time to adding to the family portfolio!

By: T-BONE on 10/4/11 at 5:52

"Of the RICH, by the RICH, for the RICH...EAT the RICH!" Wallstreet protest are only the begining....PROTEST PROTEST, PROTEST!

By: global_citizen on 10/4/11 at 10:49

As long as politics is viewed as sport instead of administration of the country's government, we're going to continue in this death spiral we've been in lately.

Immature extremists on both sides take the attitude of "We can't let the Democrats win. We can't let the Republicans win". And EVERYONE loses.

Grow the H up and start acting like adults.

By: Nitzche on 10/4/11 at 11:31

Lamar or Jake Butcher?? wait a minute 90% of you have no idea who that is ?

By: Oblio on 10/4/11 at 12:04

The importance of "coming together" is vintage Alexander and the most cynical reactions are out of line. What I best remember about his service as Governor is the year-long "Homecoming '86" celebration. It was a tremendous success that appealed to and was supported by Tennesseans of all walks of life. It would have been nice for there to have been official commemoration for this the 25th anniversary of Homecoming '86.

I think we should let Lamar be Lamar, a decent man who opposes totalitarianism and cherishes government of, for, and by all the people.