White House insiders say the Times story is bunk, but questions about Gore's possible disillusionment with Clinton, says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan, have been circulating in one form or another since the Lewinsky scandal broke. And while the Times piece is unabashedly melodramatic picture a heartsick Clinton, leaning his forehead against a rain-covered windowpane, wondering why Gore hasn't called the so-called rift, says Branegan, is based less on emotion and more on political expedience.
"Clinton and Gore both want Gore to win. They want that very badly," says Branegan. "Clinton obviously sees Gore's success as a reflection on his own presidency, and he's frustrated that Gore isn't doing better in the polls." But there's nothing personal about the frustration, says Branegan. Clinton is irked in part because he respects Gore he feels they've had a good run together. Clinton's drive to see Gore elected also means the President is amenable to to taking a few shots, says Branegan. "If Clinton saw Gore winning on a platform that called the President every name in the book, Clinton the tactician would understand."
And even if he is slightly miffed by his veep's disengagement, the political animal in Clinton respects Gore's studied distance from the White House. "At the Democratic convention, Gore got up and said he'd be his own man, and he got a bounce," says Branegan. And Clinton knows that means Gore can't come running back to him every time he wants advice.