With apologies to Lloyd Bentsen, Mississippians have watched the career of Roger Wicker for a while. Roger Wicker is no Donald Trump.
It has been disheartening to watch and listen as Wicker, now senior U.S. senator from Mississippi, positions himself more and more in the president’s pocket and less and less in line with the thoughtful and sincere conservatism that had defined his career.
As the drama has unfolded, state Sen. Chris McDaniel first challenged Wicker, planning to dispatch him in the June 5 Republican Party primary.
Well before, however, Wicker had heard the drumbeat, the catcalls, the accusations of being a closet liberal. (That’s what any conservative who talks with Democrats is called these days.)
Wicker, not known for rousing stump speeches or playing to voters’ emotions, responded by becoming a bit more vocal. After all, McDaniel, by waving the state flag and preaching that Confederate memorials were sacred, had come within half a hair of unseating the respected and revered U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014. Wicker knew he would have a formidable opponent.
The first volley from the Wicker camp was probably the most perverse TV commercial in state political history. It posited that Wicker was the tried-and-true Trump man, and cherry-picked McDaniel’s negative comments about the president.
Trump had already endorsed Wicker, but it looked as if the campaign would come down to the louder shouter of, “I love our president and he loves me, too.”
As we all know, the primary that was to be became the primary that wasn’t to be when Cochran resigned effective April 1. McDaniel quickly jumped away from the quest to unseat Wicker, opting to run in a special election to fill the two years remaining on Cochran’s term. (No confirmation, but there were scattered reports of the sound of champagne corks popping in Wicker’s office.) McDaniel’s exit left Wicker without a noisy opponent and, in all likelihood, a new six-year term.
Whether Wicker returns to pragmatism remains to be seen.
It was 1988 when Bentsen, the Democratic nominee for vice president, snarled at Dan Quayle, the Republican nominee, that Quayle didn’t measure up to the stature of former President John F. Kennedy. Likewise, Roger Wicker doesn’t measure down to the stature of our current president.
After graduation from the University of Mississippi and its law school, Wicker — apparently free of the horrid affliction of bone spurs — joined the Air Force, served on active duty and remained in the Reserve. For eight years, he served as aide to former Sen. Trent Lott, then seven years in the Mississippi Senate, then 12 years in the U.S. House before being appointed to Lott’s seat in 2007. He later won a full term and, at 66, is seeking another.
Genial is a word that comes to mind. Wicker appears to be slow to anger, but firm in his beliefs. Sent to D.C. as part of the Republican Revolution orchestrated by Haley Barbour in 1993, Wicker was elected president of the House freshman class that was also intent on draining the swamp. A stable guy who sings in the choir of the First Baptist Church of Tupelo, Wicker has a top rating from the Chamber of Commerce and a flat “F” from Planned Parenthood. He is on the naughty list for the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws gives him a “D-.”
That’s about as conservative as conservative gets.
His worst label would be “career politician,” but as a rule a person is OK with a career politician as long as the career politician’s priorities are in line with the person’s particular perspectives.
Trump, on the other hand, is anything but stable. While Trump’s raucous, shoot-from-the-lip style endears the president to millions, he has not shown consistency, substance or principle. The busiest office in the Trump White House is where ID badges are made. Trump hires people, some of them with good credentials, then most are fired or run away as soon as they discover our nation’s leader has a few applause lines, but no plan and no center of gravity other than to heap praise upon himself.
For those to whom politics is a show, all is not lost. The special election, to be held along with the general election on Nov. 6, will have ample fireworks. The contest for U.S. House District 3 is also wide open.
Otherwise, we can hope Roger Wicker returns to being who he is, and stops pretending Trump is his kind of guy.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist.