The Washington Times

Some Democrats are now talking about a Gore-Bradley ticket for November (and in that order, lest there be any doubt). To see why, all one need do is look at the other side. Compare the state of play between Gov. George Bush and his main challenger, Sen. John McCain, and that between Vice President Gore and his main challenger, Bill Bradley.

Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain can’t say enough nice things about each other. Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley are at each other’s throats. If the process of getting the nomination is sufficiently bruising for the eventual Democratic victor, he may find himself battered and broke as he turns his attention to the general election.

Hence there is good reason for Mr. Gore’s supporters to envy Mr. Bush his main opponent. Mr. McCain is the model of civility in opposition. He explains what he’s for with a smile on his face. He draws contrasts with Mr. Bush almost exclusively indirectly or by implication. He does not seem to be taking himself too seriously. He does not “go negative.”

Although Mr. McCain has been making progress in the polls, the Bush campaign has refrained from going after him. The campaigns of both Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain have made much of the high-minded nature of their labors: The voters have had it with mud-wrestling; they want a positive message; going negative will backfire, costing a candidate more in the form of “higher negatives” than it gains, etc.

A similar high-mindedness is not exactly what’s on offer on the Democratic side, where much of the discussion seems to have shifted from competing health care plans to the question of which candidate is lying most about the other’s health care plan. Mr. Gore’s campaign now seems to have found its footing, but this is not what Mr. Gore wanted to be concentrating on now. Mr. Bradley’s success in establishing his candidacy throughout this year, and Mr. Gore’s concomitant inability to lock the nomination down, have resulted in what looks like a protracted and expensive primary season. Mr. Bradley is likely to inflict substantial damage and embarrassment on Mr. Gore, even if Mr. Gore cannot be dislodged.

Hence the current burst of enthusiasm for a Gore-Bradley ticket. The sentiment is not coming from the Bradley forces, needless to say – at least if they are still committed to dethroning the vice president, as they show every sign of being. No, the perfectly understandable source of the sentiment among Democrats is to get this thing settled, right now, before any more damage gets done: Mr. Gore is the winner; Mr. Bradley gets the vice presidency as consolation prize and as tribute to his political muscle; and to get the deal done, Mr. Bradley ceases to threaten Mr. Gore before he does any more damage. Long live the new civility -just like the Republican campaign.

Right. But the predicate of the high-mindedness on the GOP side is the view in the Bush camp that their man can beat Mr. McCain without attacking him. And the predicate in the McCain camp is that a direct attack on the front-runner will do the senator no good right now. But does anyone really think that Mr. Bush would let himself be defeated for the nomination rather than sacrifice his reputation for good humor? And if Mr. Bush is ever truly tottering, with one good push enough to send him into the abyss, will Mr. McCain be too kind to deliver it?

Thus on the GOP side, the task of the Bush campaign is to try, with a smile, to make sure that moment never arrives; and for the McCain camp, with a smile, to try to bring it about.

Unfortunately for the Gore-Bradley ticket musings, the Democratic contest has, from the beginning, been between two men of whom the same two things can be said: He is running for president, and he has a plausible claim on the office. Until one defeats the other, the only way out of the dilemma is for one to cede to the other.

The reason the GOP race is friendlier is that there is now only one man of whom those two things can be said. That’s George W. Bush. Steve Forbes is running, but has no plausible claim. Mr. McCain has a claim, but is not yet running. He has acquiesced in Mr. Bush’s eventual nomination – in the absence of a dramatic change in the correlation of forces currently favoring Mr. Bush.

The Democratic Gore-Bradley unity ticket is probably a ways off. But Democrats should console themselves. In the event the correlation of forces on the GOP side does change, the Bush-McCain lovefest will quickly be seen to have had all the genuine bonhomie of the relations between Julius Caesar and Brutus in the weeks before the Ides of March.