To Run or Not to Run? Inside Al Gore's Mind. . .

Now what is Al Gore thinking as he reads Ron Brownstein’s story in this Saturday morning’s Los Angeles Times about MoveOn.Org endorsing Joe Lieberman’s Democratic opponent?

"Strong Signs of Rift Among Democrats" is the big boldfaced headline.

It is indeed big news. There is Joe Lieberman -- the momentarily wildly popular vice presidential nominee of the party -- being jettisoned by one of its best known independent groups, encouraging what some are calling civil war. No love lost these days between him and Al Gore.

But that’s secondary.

Gore has to be thinking: "They want me … (politicians, in my experience, often think this). I’m the only one who can pull this off (this, being the 2008 presidential election, of course). I really may have -- have to -- to change my mind….."

If he’s not thinking that on his own as a result of what MoveOn.Org has done, his staff is almost certainly telling him to think it. . . .

It may not be intuitively obvious to a normal person how the endorsement of Ned Lamont by the MoveOn.Org pac so decisively proves that Al Gore must change his mind. But that’s why staff gets the big bucks. . . .

You do a memo. You make the case. You stay up while everybody else goes to dinner.

Then comes Frank Rich in the next morning’s New York Times calling on Gore to run, and you think, why didn’t I already write this memo?

The argument would go something like this:

1. The MoveOn poll may not be typical of voters in general, or even of voters inside the Democratic party, but it is typical of the activists who will participate in Democratic caucuses and at least a minority, if not a majority, of primary, voters.

2. These voters simply will not support Hillary Clinton, just as MoveOn.Org will not. Move On, remember? The war is that important.

Hillary’s strength is being overstated by current polls. She’s cruising for a bruising, if not a beating, in caucus states: that means the first state, Iowa, and it also means that the current scheme to move two more up before New Hampshire could be a nightmare for her. . . .

3. An anti-war candidate will emerge in 2008 and he will either be Hillary’s foil, if it is Feingold, or her undoing, if it’s Al Gore.

4. Hillary’s game plan has to be that she wins by beating Feingold every Tuesday; that not enough people take him seriously, even if they agree with him on the war, and therefore she looks strong and centrist in the process.

5. The problem with this game plan is not that it’s stupid but that it’s brilliant; it could work, if you define working as getting Hillary the nomination. But like every Clinton plan, the question is always the same: at what price?

What if she simply can’t win a general election, as every one of our polls suggest that she cannot? What if her only game plan produces civil war inside the Democratic Party? What if there is also a chance that things can go very wrong, and that it could indeed produce a Feingold nomination and an even worse disaster?

6. Only a Gore candidacy has the capacity to actually unite all factions of the party behind one candidate, and only a united party has the possibility of beating the Republicans. The only kind of candidate who can possibly unite the party and reach out to Republicans is an anti-war candidate.

7. The only candidate with the national statute, the right position on the war, and the experience to take on Hillary is. . . .

8. By keeping the presidential option open, you get much more attention to the cause of global warming than you ever otherwise would in any event. So it would be just plain wrong to close it at this point.

"My party needs me . . . ." (they often think this too).

Remember who endorsed Dean early? Who has the strongest claim to his grass roots organization, as well as his supporters inside the DNC, but still maintains good enough relations with the party establishment?

Sir, you can just hear someone argue, the liberals are deserting. Frank Rich has left. Dodd is making plans.

There is a groundswell of support for Gore. Or so his staff will tell him. It all depends on what you mean by a groundswell. There is certainly a groundswell among the punditry. It’s just human nature to prefer to be on a presidential team as opposed to a non-presidential team. So should we be shocked if the Gore polls say that Hillary can’t win?

I’m just guessing, of course. And if the Clinton polls tell us she can. And if all of them are too early to mean anything.

I do hear that he’s dieting.

Tell everyone I’m not running (can’t look too eager...)

The Al Gore who runs for president this time around has to be as different from the one who ran last time as the Al Gore of 1992 was from the 1988 version. Al Gore 1988 was called Prince Albert off the record by the campaign managers of the other candidates, myself included, and it was a pretty apt description for his entitled persona: he veered to the self-righteous, looked at his opponents with some contempt, thought that having charmed Mrs. Harriman, the rest was coming.

Then, in between 1988 and 1992, his son was in a serious accident, he decided not to run, wrote a book, and the Al Gore who next emerged seemed changed, and more mature; looking to the future with hope, but chastened by reality, and much more relaxed than the last time around. By 2000, the old Al was back: the entitled, self-righteous one.

In 2008, he will need to engage in the transformation, again.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the Fox News Channel.

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