The Magazine


Aug 2, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 43 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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MIKE FORBES LIKES SOUP. But he doesn't like corn. So when Forbes, a third-term congressman from New York, found corn in his dehydrated soup-in-a-cup, he had a member of his congressional staff remove every kernel.

Picking corn out of soup is a tedious task, even by the standards of Capitol Hill, but members of Forbes's staff were used to such assignments. Many had already seen the congressman explode after an aide was slow to wash a dirty cereal bowl Forbes had left in a sink. Others had heard about the time Forbes lost his temper when a female assistant forgot to drain the water from his canned tuna before serving it to him.

Forbes has never been an easy man to work for. Over the course of his first four and a half years in Congress, a total of 53 staffers resigned or were fired from his office, a rate of about one a month. Then, two weeks ago, Forbes announced he was leaving the Republican party and becoming a Democrat. Every member of his staff immediately quit. Many say they are happy to be looking for new jobs. "He's a screamer," says one. "I was afraid of him," says Tina Mufford, his former staff assistant, "afraid he'd go off."

Not afraid he'd go off and become a Democrat, though. Virtually no one in Forbes's office anticipated that. Late in the afternoon of July 16, Forbes, still a Republican, left the Capitol and drove with a member of his staff to Reagan National Airport outside Washington. When he got to the airport, Forbes drove past the terminals and into the private airfield next door. His aide, legislative director Brian Fauls, was confused. "I asked him what he was doing," Fauls remembers. "He said, 'I'm bumming a ride from someone.'" As Fauls discovered later, the "someone" turned out to be the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had sent a Learjet to take Forbes home to Long Island.

Forbes landed in New York and was picked up by a member of his district staff. Forbes and a DCCC operative sat in the back of the car talking. Forbes's driver listened, stunned, as the two chatted about Forbes's new party affiliation. At one point, Forbes fretted about his wife, Barbara, a staunch Republican who once worked at the Bush White House. "Barbara's still not sure about this," Forbes said. "You may have to help me convince her."

The driver dropped Forbes at his house and immediately called the staff at the Washington office to pass on what he had heard. Forbes himself called several hours later. The next day he held a press conference to tell the world. Ordinarily, Forbes's switch would have made the evening news. Unfortunately for him, Forbes chose to become a Democrat on the same day John Kennedy Jr.'s plane went down. The competition for coverage irritated Forbes. "This is really going to hurt my press," he told his executive assistant, Jeff LaCourse.

In his statement, Forbes complained, "There's no room in the Republican party in Congress for moderates like myself." The only problem is, Forbes was never a moderate. A pro-life, pro-gun member of the famously ferocious freshman class of 1994, Forbes voted for all four counts of impeachment against President Clinton. Each January, he held a reception in his Washington office for antiabortion protesters commemorating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This spring, he endorsed George W. Bush for president.

Forbes has since suggested that his endorsement of Bush was less than whole-hearted, and it probably was. Forbes originally planned to back Sen. John McCain in the presidential race. Earlier this year, he had discussions with McCain strategists, even floated the possibility of giving stump speeches on McCain's behalf. Then Al D'Amato called. Forbes once worked for D'Amato, and has remained in close contact with the former New York senator. According to LaCourse, "D'Amato told him, 'You're going to endorse Bush, and that's all there is to it.'" Forbes, who by all accounts is afraid of D'Amato, grudgingly agreed. "We paid the price for it," says LaCourse. "He was in a bad mood for a week."