The Magazine

PRESIDENT GORE?

Sep 21, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 02 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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THERE IS A POINT AT WHICH EVEN James Carville runs out of spin. Until recently, that point existed only in theory. Then, last week, Ken Starr submitted his report on the Lewinsky investigation to Capitol Hill and the normally talkative consultant seemed to run out of things to say. So, Carville was asked the day after the report arrived, who do you think will be in the Gore administration? Carville didn't even muster a dismissive chortle. "Call somebody else," he said.


Carville is a Clinton partisan, so his unwillingness to talk about the possible aftermath of the president's impeachment or resignation is not surprising. What is surprising is how willing some Gore advisers have been to speculate (provided they're not identified by name) about what will happen if Gore becomes president before the year 2000. Gore is famous for his loyalty to Clinton and for his refusal, even in private, to criticize his boss. "For four years I was with [Gore] as much as anyone," says a recently departed aide, "and I never heard him say a thing about what he really thought of Clinton, even when I asked him leading questions. Nothing." Still, there is evidence of hairline cracks in the Clinton-Gore relationship, beginning with their views on foreign policy.


During his years in the Senate, Gore often boasted of his extensive knowledge of world affairs, and he is widely thought to be unimpressed with Clinton's scattershot, inattentive, and weak foreign policy. If Gore were to become president, says someone who has helped form his positions, "you'd see a tougher foreign policy. Gore is-more interested in foreign policy, more inclined to use military force." Gore is said to be particularly dismayed by the administration's decision to suspend vigorous inspections of Iraqi chemical-weapons sites. "You have to interpret the rolling of the eyes," says a close friend who has talked to Gore about the subject recently. "I've seen eye-rolling."


A number of advisers claim Gore is also dissatisfied with the ineffectual performance of Madeleine Albright. "If Madeleine Albright remained secretary of state" during a Gore administration, says one, "she'd be even more symbolic and flatulent than she is now." Fearful of criticism from organized feminists (who pushed Clinton into appointing Albright over George Mitchell in the first place), Gore probably wouldn't go looking for a new secretary of state. Instead, he'd likely bring in a more hawkish national security adviser -- or at least fire the present one. "There's a vast gap between Sandy Berger's view of the world and his," says a Gore intimate.


Most other high-level Clinton appointees would be safe in the first months of a Gore administration. When Clinton is forced to leave office prematurely, says someone who knows the vice president, "it's going to be such a traumatic event, it will reinforce Gore's native caution. I doubt he'd go out willy-nilly firing cabinet members." Nor, says another Gore aide, could he afford to: "There are a lot of politics behind the cabinet. You're not going to [replace commerce secretary William] Daley because of Chicago, [energy secretary Bill] Richardson just got there, and you don't knock off Madeleine [Albright] because you don't want to offend the women's groups. Within the next year, people will start to leave on their own." Treasury secretary Robert Rubin is rumored to be on his way out already, to be replaced perhaps by Jim Johnson, departing head of Fannie Mae. As for Janet Reno, says someone who works for Gore, "now that she's investigating him, she's got the safest job in town."


Within the White House, President Gore's staff would likely include a number of familiar names. Gore has been criticized by Democratic strategists, fund-raisers, and campaign consultants for refusing to enlarge the tiny group of longtime advisers who surround him, few of whom directly challenge his judgment. "I've told him," says a Democratic operative, "'If you're going to win, you've got to expand your circle.'" So far, Gore has ignored the advice, and if he becomes president at least some of his choices for senior staff will be predictable. Former chiefs of staff Peter Knight, Jack Quinn, and Roy Neel are sure to be asked to return (Neel as presidential chief of staff), as is Elaine Kamarck, a former Newsday columnist and Progressive Policy Institute fellow who spent five years as Gore's social-policy adviser. Larry Harrington, a former aide to Gore on Capitol Hill and the deputy manager of his 1988 presidential bid, is a strong bet for White House political director. Frank Hunger, meanwhile, an official at the Justice Department who was married to Gore's late sister Nancy, could become the new Bruce Lindsey. "Hunger would certainly become the consigliere, which he sort of is now," says a Gore watcher.


It's easy to predict the names in a Gore administration because there aren't many of them to choose from. Gore is famously uncomfortable with other people, and even after a lifetime in politics, he has a notably short list of FOAs. Former New York congressman Tom Downey, for instance, is invariably described in news accounts as among Gore's closest personal confidants -- a description Downey himself apparently finds strange. "If I'm one of his best friends," Downey told a Gore aide a few years ago, "it doesn't say much about him."


The most often asked question, needless to say, is, Who will be the Veep's veep? Conventional wisdom puts Sen. Dianne Feinstein at the top of the list, but hardly anyone who actually knows Gore considers her a likely choice. "Nonsense," says one of the vice president's oldest advisers. Much as Feinstein might help Gore in California in 2000, the adviser points out, "her husband is a real-estate person. Successful real-estate people can't withstand the scrutiny of daylight." Affable former congressman Bill Richardson, whose name is also mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate, seems equally unlikely. Not only does Richardson come from an electorally insignificant state -- New Mexico -- there's the problem of his infamous career-planning breakfast with Monica Lewinsky at the Watergate. Dick Gephardt might be a good choice, says one Gore adviser: "He brings you labor, he brings you the Midwest, there are no ethical problems. I think he's only dated one woman in his life." The only problem: He and Gore have had "hatred" for each other since the 1988 campaign. "Maybe if Gray Davis wins in California, Gore will pick him."


Maybe not. For the moment, Gore himself isn't shedding any light on the matter. Just last week, Clinton remarked to a friend how pleased he has been by the vice president's enthusiastic professions of loyalty, and he has reason to be. Since January, Gore has been more supportive of Clinton in public than Clinton's own wife. Gore's ingrained, reflexive partisanship probably accounts for much of this. Simple political calculation probably accounts for the rest. "Gore made it clear to me that his relationship with the president was the currency of the realm," says someone who worked for the vice president. Gore takes pains to be present in the White House when Clinton is there, and for years his staff has arranged his schedule around his weekly lunch with the president. "I can't tell you how many times we took the red-eye back from the West Coast so he could be at that lunch," says an aide.


For the past six years, Gore has understood that his power comes from his close relationship with Clinton. Now there is the Starr report. The subject of Clinton's resignation, says a friend of Gore's, has long been taboo around the vice president. "He's very uncomfortable talking about it. If you try to raise it he cuts you off. Not that I've offered to come pack his books" -- an offer that may come soon enough.




Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.