The next inadvertent vice president.

Taking stock of people and ideas in the news.
March 10 2005 7:28 AM

Bill Frist

It's hard to run the Senate while you're running for president.

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Lately, the slip of Frist's presidential ambition has been starting to show. By pouncing on Arlen Specter after the November election to demand that the Pennsylvania senator pledge his support for the president's judicial nominees as prospective head of the Senate judiciary committee, Frist made an obvious overture to Christian conservatives—but didn't help hold together the Senate's Republican caucus. Last week as well it seemed that the politics of 2008 were interfering with the business of 2005. Frist told reporters that it could take perhaps as long as a year to get Social Security legislation to a vote in the Senate. He seemed to be voicing a certain sympathy for the public's reluctance about the president's chief legislative priority. By Thursday, he was on the Senate floor clarifying his position—or perhaps recanting. "We need to do it this year," Frist said, "not next year, but this year." To be fair, Frist may have been guilty mostly of a little loose talk: His initial comments were intended to explain that there is no clear timeline for Social Security legislation. Still, he left the impression that he is in no hurry to bring to a vote what looks like an unpopular proposal. Even if Frist discovers an untapped source of charisma, fumblings like these will send him right to the V.P. spot.

James Harding is Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times.