Fate of the Union: America's Rocky Road to Political Stalemate

By Robert Shogan | Go to book overview

10
The Return of
the Comeback Kid

WHEN THE TWO MOST POTENT figures in national politics met at a Washington dinner in the spring of 1996, it was inevitable that their conversation turned to the 1996 presidential election. Given their relative circumstances, it was also probably inevitable that when House Speaker Gingrich and President Clinton chatted during the predinner reception, it was Gingrich who had the most to say.

"You've done some things very well since we took over the Congress," the Speaker told the president. "But now you have to face how hard this campaign is going to be. Right now, if I had to guess," Gingrich added, "I'd say your chances of winning are about one in three."

The president did not take umbrage at this gratuitous observation, or so it seemed to Gingrich when he later told me about the conversation. "We were just two professionals talking business," the Speaker explained. But Clinton did not argue the point, either. Indeed, at that particular moment in political time, not many in Washington, including leaders of Clinton's own party, would have had much ground for disagreeing with the Speaker's assessment.

True, the tragic bombing in Oklahoma City had worked to Clinton's advantage, allowing him to emerge from the shadows of public discourse and score a point or two against the leaders of the conservative tide that had engulfed the nation. But it was by no means clear that this recovery represented anything more than a temporary relief for the beleaguered chief executive.

Even as the overblown reaction to the Republican midterm triumph subsided, Clinton still faced a fundamental problem: He lacked any compelling rationale for his presidency, let alone for winning reelection to a second

-239-

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Fate of the Union: America's Rocky Road to Political Stalemate
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Author's Note xi
  • 1 - Born to Fail 1
  • 2 - The Coincumbents: the Price of Pragmatism 17
  • 3 - The Prinee of Ambivalenee 49
  • 4 - The Contenders: Who Else is There? 73
  • 5 - The Ppophet: Back to the Future 99
  • 6 - The Unraveling 133
  • 7 - The Crybaby 165
  • 8 - The Lawmaker 197
  • 9 - The Pitchfork Rebellion 217
  • 10 - The Return of the Comeback Kid 239
  • 11 - Divided They Ran 265
  • 12 - The New Political Order 289
  • A Note on Sources 321
  • Index 323
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