What the Clinton-Gore Spat Means for the Democratic Party

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Bill Clinton and Al Gore are reported to have had a post-election row

In Wednesday's Washington Post, staff writer John Harris reports on a heated meeting between Al Gore and Bill Clinton, just days after Gore conceded the presidential election to George W. Bush. With the loss still fresh in both men's minds, accusations and blame are reported to have flowed freely. TIME national political correspondent Karen Tumulty followed the Gore campaign from its inception to the bitter end. Here, she offers her thoughts on the meeting, the participants, and the future of the Democratic party.

Q: Were you surprised by the implications of the Harris article?

Tumulty: Not really. Bill Clinton was always the elephant in the room of the Gore campaign, from the very beginning. Even back in '99, when Gore first announced his candidacy, and went on network news shows to discuss his campaign, he was asked primarily about Clinton. By the end of the campaign, the rift between them became more apparent; days and days would go by without Gore ever mentioning Clinton's name.

Q: Clinton and Gore reportedly spent a lot of their meeting debating the reasons for Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush. Gore insists that Clinton's personal life hurt his chances to win the election, while Clinton argues that Gore failed to capitalize on the administration's successes. Is there some consensus as to who's right?

Tumulty: It's an interesting question, in and of itself, which will be debated for years in an historical context. It's also important for the Democratic party: How does this rift, and Al Gore's loss, affect the party and future campaigns? Does the party need to go back to traditional concerns, in the spirit of the Gore campaign, or should the party hew to a Clinton-inspired centrist philosophy?

Q: So what was the breaking point between these two? Did it have anything to do with policy or political decisions, or was it wholly rooted in Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky?

Tumulty: There were never any real policy differences between Clinton and Gore. The Democrats wanted to cast the whole administration as this sort of buddy movie. But then, after Monica, there was a break, and it was clear from that point on it was all an act. Al and Tipper Gore were personally appalled by Clinton's actions, especially as the parents of three girls who are very close to Monica's age.

Q: There are conflicting reports as to the purpose of the Clinton-Gore meeting. Some are saying it was a way for Gore to put a final period on the relationship. Others argue that it was a bilateral attempt to smooth things over. Will these two spend a lot of time together in the future?

Tumulty: Professionally, they'll have to interact. Clinton is a major force in Democratic party, and if Gore wants a political future, he'll have to work with Clinton. Will they go out for barbecue in Virginia together? I don't think so.