Fall from Grace

Seven days in May end with a front runner's implosion

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 7)

Yet even in his political death throes, Hart could barely bring himself to let go his grip on the prize that so narrowly eluded him in 1984. Facing a mob of TV cameras last Friday morning, Hart began boldly, "I intended, quite frankly, to come down here this morning and read a short, carefully worded political statement saying that I was withdrawing from the race, and then quietly disappear from the stage. And then, after frankly tossing and turning all night, as I have for the last three or four nights, I woke up at four or five this morning with a start. And I said to myself, 'Hell, no!' "

It was a stunning moment of political drama, emotionally arresting because it seemed so palpably sincere. Hart supporters in the room erupted in wild applause. A nation of TV viewers thought as one: Was it possible that Hart would fight on? Was it possible that this political loner, this mocker of the canons of orthodoxy, would try to ride out the scandal? Was it possible that Hart would offer up his candidacy in the ultimate test of American tolerance and sense of fair play?

The answer was no. Hart had anticipated the confusion before he faced the press, and had instructed Top Aide Bill Shore to tell senior staffers privately that his withdrawal was complete and unequivocal. In his statement, Hart tried to blame the press for destroying the dialogue that he was just beginning to conduct with the voters about his vision of the national interest: "If someone's able to throw up a smoke screen and keep it there long enough, you can't get your message across. You can't raise the money to finance a campaign, there's too much static, and you can't communicate."

The most that the seemingly unrepentant Hart would concede was that "I've made some mistakes . . . maybe big mistakes, but not bad mistakes." Yet the facts, as ambiguous as some of them are, make clear that Hart brought on his own downfall. Ever since he reconciled for the second time with his wife Lee in 1982, Hart has portrayed himself as a dutiful husband whose 28-year marriage was strengthened by the stress of separation. But in his private conduct, Hart challenged the moralistic conventions of political behavior and ultimately paid the price for his apostasy. Until the very end Hart seemed oblivious to the reality that his actions had consequences. He denied there was anything improper about his friendship with Donna Rice, even though it is far from customary for 50-year-old men to spend weekends away from their wives hanging out with comely actresses who have appeared on Miami Vice. Hart jeopardized his reputation for veracity by angrily denying the persistent rumors about his womanizing. On the eve of the cruise to Bimini, Hart even told a New York Times reporter, "If anyone wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very bored." The interview appeared on the day the Herald bannered the report from its Washington stakeout.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7