‘In the way’: Clin­ton’s short fuse singe­ing wife’s bid

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By An­drea Billups

It starts with his hand ris­ing, and then the in­dex fin­ger be­gins to wag. But re­porters know they are in the midst of a Bill Clin­ton erup­tion when his face quickly turns a shade of crim­son, mov­ing to pur­ple when he’s re­ally get­ting hot and in the throes of a high­minded scold­ing.

In Penn­syl­va­nia April 21, on the eve of a key pri­mary that his wife would even­tu­ally win by close to dou­ble dig­its, the for­mer pres­i­dent, vented his frus­tra­tions af­ter a re­porter asked him about his com­ments on race and the cam­paign — and he re­sorted to pro­fan­ity in an aside, af­ter he thought he was off mi­cro­phone.

Mr. Clin­ton’s anger has been on fre­quent dis­play dur­ing his wife’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign this year, and some are won­der­ing if what was sup­posed to be Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s big­gest cam­paign as­set may ac­tu­ally sabotage her can­di­dacy.

Across the In­ter­net, his tem­per fits and cam­paign mis­steps have been chron­i­cled by pun­dits who de­scribe Mr. Clin­ton as “sabo­teur.”

“The man usu­ally con­sid­ered to be the most cun­ning politi­cian of his gen­er­a­tion is kind of los­ing his sense of the right move,” said Jeremy Mayer, a pro­fes­sor who di­rects the mas­ter’s pro­gram in pub­lic pol­icy at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity.

Mr. Mayer added that “what we have seen in the last three months is that he’s not as ef­fec­tive in his per­sonal con­duct as a cam­paigner as he has been his­tor­i­cally for him­self.”

But Mr. Clin­ton still draws the crowds, and pun­dits have said his suc­cesses have greatly helped his wife.

“We want Bill,”

crowds chanted April 24 on the cam­pus of North Carolina’s Elon Univer­sity, where Mr. Clin­ton was back on the stump for his wife ahead of the state’s May 6 pri­mary — the latest in her bat­tle with ri­val Sen. Barack Obama of Illi­nois.

But Mr. Clin­ton is in­creas­ingly tagged as a hot­head, even by those who sup­ported him and who now wish he’d put a lid on his per­sonal out­bursts.

A re­cent poll found that Mr. Clin­ton’s un­fa­vor­able rat­ing is at its high­est point ever: 51 per­cent. Mrs. Clin­ton of New York is do­ing even worse — 54 per­cent have an un­fa­vor­able opin­ion of her. And, while some sug­gested a Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton pres­i­dency might have the added bonus of a two-for-one with Bill, a Pew poll in Fe­bru­ary found that 41 per­cent of vot­ers — up from 34 per­cent last fall — were un­happy with the no­tion of Mr. Clin­ton “back in the White House.”

“He is no longer on his game,” said Univer­sity of Vir­ginia po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Larry Sa­bato. “He has sur­prised peo­ple be­cause his po­lit­i­cal skills in the ‘80s and ‘90s were al­ways sharp, but now he’s very rusty — the way for­mer pres­i­dents tend to get [. . . ] and that has re­peat­edly got­ten in the way of her mes­sage.”

Mrs. Clin­ton has re­mained mum in pub­lic, but it seems she is un­happy about some of her hus­band’s an­tics.

Last month, af­ter Mr. Clin­ton an­grily sprung to her de­fense, de­scrib­ing her as “ex­hausted” af­ter she “mis­spoke” about ar­riv­ing on a trip to Bos­nia un­der sniper fire, which was un­true, she told him to put a muz­zle on the “white knight” rou­tine.

“Hil­lary called me and said, ‘You don’t re­mem­ber this; you weren’t there. Let me han­dle it,’ “ Mr. Clin­ton told re­porters on a stop in In­di­ana. “And I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ ”

The Bos­nia in­ci­dent, how­ever, was not his only fit of anger.

When the Clin­tons’ long­time pal, New Mex­ico Gov. Bill Richard­son, pub­licly an­nounced his sup­port of Mr. Obama, Mr. Clin­ton couldn’t sup­press his rage at the per­ceived back­stab­bing.

“Five times to my face he said that he would never do it,” fumed Mr. Clin­ton, in whose ad­min­is­tra­tion Mr. Richard­son served as en­ergy sec­re­tary and U.N. am­bas­sador.

Most dam­ag­ing for his im­age, though, is that he’s an­gered on­celoyal black Democrats in the way he has ad­dressed Mr. Obama’s bid for the White House. He com­pared Mr. Obama’s suc­cess in South Carolina with two-time pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jesse Jack­son’s pre­vi­ous wins there in 1984 and 1988, sug­gest­ing it was nat­u­ral Mr. Obama would win that state as well.

Rais­ing the is­sue and draw­ing the com­par­i­son with Mr. Jack­son was le­git­i­mate, says Duke Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Kerry Haynie, but Mr. Clin­ton’s han­dling of race in an elec­tion where it clearly re­mains a fac­tor has been less than as­tute.

“I think he and the Clin­ton cam­paign are caught be­tween a rock and a hard place,” said Mr. Haynie, the co-di­rec­tor of Duke’s Cen­ter for the Study of Race, Eth­nic­ity and Gen­der. “I think they have been sort of hamhanded in the way that they have dealt with the race is­sue.”

The top black law­maker in the House, Rep. James E. Cly­burn, South Carolina Demo­crat, told the New York Times two weeks ago that Mr. Clin­ton may have done ir­repara­ble dam­age.

“When he was go­ing through his im­peach­ment prob­lems, it was the black com­mu­nity that bel­lied up to the bar,” Mr. Cly­burn said. “I think black folks feel strongly that this is a strange way for Pres­i­dent Clin­ton to show his ap­pre­ci­a­tion.”

Al­li­son Shelley / The Wash­ing­ton Times

For­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, seen here lis­ten­ing to his wife ad­dress a Philadel­phia rally on April 21, “is no longer on his game” in cam­paign­ing for her, one po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst says.

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