Everyone is focusing on the polls and spreadsheets, on the scandals and negative ads. But this is about something else. This is about the dance. The dance is where you see the joy of the joust. It’s a gifted pro making his moves. It’s a moment of humor, wit or merriness on the trail; it’s the clever jab or the unexpected line that flips an argument.
It’s the 1960s and California’s new governor, warring with the public university system, goes to meet with the chancellors. Students mass to protest his arrival by standing shoulder to shoulder and staring at him in complete and jarring silence. He arrives, walks past, turns at the doorway and puts his finger to his lips. Ssshhhh, he says, and winks. They start to laugh. Or the time he was heckled at a rally in 1984, and said, “You know, I may let Mr. Mondale raise his taxes.” Ronald Reagan could dance.
Bill Clinton is still the master. Last week he went to Iowa, in the middle of the country, and told Democrats to reach out and embrace with love all these poor Republicans who no longer have a home. Their party has been taken over by “the most ideological, the most right-wing, the most extreme sliver of the Republican party!” Republicans are good–it’s their leaders who’ve gone nutty! “Forget about politics. Just go out and find somebody and look them dead in the eye and say, ‘You know, this is not right.’ ” He’s moving to drive a wedge between an unpopular president and his frustrated party. It’s a move to reframe, to separate and pick off. And it’s exactly how to go at moderate Republicans right now, not with a punch but a hand on the shoulder.
It’s classic Clinton. He gets real nice when he smells blood. You may say he has a natural advantage: The dance is what he was born for; governing was his problem. But give him his due. He can foxtrot.