Yikes. If the pundits are to be believed, George W. Bush came just short of winning the presidency with his sure-footed performance in Wednesday evening's second presidential debate. And Al Gore can basically kiss the Oval Office goodbye because of his own languid performance. The truth is probably more uneventful. Gore stopped the bleeding on the arrogance, exaggeration front; Bush helped himself on the dork front. So it's basically a wash. The only problem for Gore is that the tide was already moving in Bush's favor before the debate. So a tie may count for a Bush win.
Hillary Clinton and company had absolutely no business thinking they could persuade New York voters that Rick Lazio was another mean Republican like Newt Gingrich. Then Lazio hired Mike Murphy as his head consultant and Bill Dal Col as his campaign manager.
I don't see any other explanation. Lazio, who easily looks 15 years younger than his forty-one years, is actually a pretty moderate guy. Yes, he voted pretty dutifully for Newt Gingrich. But Lazio was also one of those prized "moderate" Republican congressmen whom the White House was hoping, until the very last moment, would vote against impeachment. (Remember that picture of Lazio shaking hands with Yasir Arafat that's gotten so much attention? Clinton took him on that trip to the Middle East to try (really, really try) to get him not to vote for impeachment.) Anyway, Lazio's no Newt Gingrich. But during the last several weeks he's pulled a number of stunts that have played right into Hillary's game plan.
Evidence Item #1: Lazio's now notorious effort to compel Hillary to sign his no-soft-money pledge in debate number one. It was unlucky for Lazio that Tim Russert had already asked Hillary if she wanted to apologize for her Vast Right Wing Conspiracy remark and her then-claim that Clinton had not fooled around with Monica. This set up the Hillary as victim motif which Lazio only accentuated. (Note: The Washington Memo editorial staff thinks Russert owes Hillary an apology.) But that aside, Lazio's stunt, walking over and getting in Hillary's face, could not have been an impromptu decision. I repeat, could not. The idea almost definitely came from Murphy. (What were they thinking? Hmmm? How do we appeal to moderate female voters who aren't crazy about Hillary but tend to vote Democratic? Hmmm? How about menacing her on stage? Yea, that's the ticket!)
Evidence Item #2: Remember back when Hillary was having all that trouble with the alleged "Jew Bastard" remark from the early 1970s? That seems like ancient history now. But it was a pretty big deal at the time. Remember Lazio's response? He said he wasn't sure whom to believe: Hillary or her accuser. And that the incident pointed up questions about Hillary's credibility.
Playing rough? No, playing stupid. There's a rule in political combat. When you're opponent is busy eating *#$%, don't get in her way. Give her a spoon. The smart way to play this was to say no comment or say he believed her. That doesn't help Hillary, but it would have made Lazio look like a class act. Again, that sort of comment doesn't get made by accident. It came from Lazio's strategists.
Evidence Item #3: After finally getting Hillary to agree to an inherently disadvantageous no-soft-money agreement, Lazio proceeded to break the agreement by taking Republican Party hard money to finance his ads. Couldn't have been more stupid. And again, the decision almost certainly came from Murphy and perhaps also his campaign manager Bill Dal Col.
With Lazio now faltering in the polls, the buzz is that Murphy has been talking down his own candidate, calling him high-maintenance and generally trying to distance himself from what seems to be a losing effort. The campaign also seems to have been hurt, at least on the margins, by some bad blood between Murphy and Dal Col who until recently worked for John McCain and Steve Forbes, respectively, and state party leaders, who've always been with George W. Bush.
For a slew of reasons, Lazio would have done better to go with local talent to help him run his campaign. But he made a particularly bad choice taking on Murphy and Dal Col, who've apparently given him no end of bad advice, especially by importing anti-Clinton politics to New York where it's never had much hope of success. Bye, bye, Rickie!