Cowering Republicans I covered are strangers now

Back in 1999, I spent a long day tooling around Iowa with Lamar Alexander. At the time of our travels in a Winnebago, accompanied by a couple of aides and a press corps consisting of me and an AP photographer, he was a former Tennessee governor and a presidential candidate trying to compete with the rock star campaign of George W. Bush.

What I remember most from that day was a dramatic back story that, to my puzzlement, he did not mention in his pitch to voters. President Bill Clinton had been impeached by the House and tried in the Senate in a consuming saga of sex, lies and investigations. Voters seemed ready for someone of, as they say, unimpeachable character. Enter Alexander, at least theoretically.

Who would be more perfect for the moment than a man who had taken over a state amid a gubernatorial pardon-selling scandal so serious that he was sworn in three days early in a secret 1979 ceremony, to cut short outgoing Gov. Ray Blanton’s corruption spree? So sensational they made a movie about it, called “Marie,” in which a lawyer (and future senator) named Fred Thompson played himself? The obvious narrative was that Alexander knew how to restore trust in government — he had already done it in Tennessee.

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