- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Marc Racicot, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, is giving punching bags a bad name. Last weekend, on his virgin voyage on the Sunday talk-show circuit (as party chairman), he got badly mauled by "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert and Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe and they didn't even work up a sweat.

Before Mr. Racicot enters the ring again, he had better learn how to protect himself from the eye gouge, the kidney punch and if truth be told from stepping on his own shoelaces. He should also be coached on how to slip in a punch about six inches below the belt when the referee's vision is blocked.

This is downtown, son. Here, it's learn fast, or die. Country boys like you can be found piling up at the morgue every night. As the old song lyrics say: "It isn't very pretty what a town without pity can do." Mr. Racicot should consider this column friendly advice.

Last Sunday morning, I was sitting lazily in an overstuffed chair at a swell resort on the Gulf of Mexico watching "Meet the Press." First, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put in his usual clever performance. He had Mr. Russert purring and rubbing himself against the secretary's trousers, waiting to be petted.

That was followed by the CEO of Arthur Andersen, Joe Berardino, doing his imitation of a weasel in a corner. (To paraphrase Thumper's advice to Bambi: "If you don't have anything useful to say, don't say nothing at all.")

Then came the main event: the clean-cut former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot (pronounced "Roscoe"), who was less than 48 hours into his new job as chairman of the Republican National Committee, vs. Terry McAuliffe, the multi-millionaire wheeler-dealer veteran chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). And in the third corner, the slimmed-down but still super heavyweight Buffalo mauler Tim "The Enforcer" Russert. (They ought to pre-empt NFL games for blood sport like this.)

Mr. Russert started with a softball Enron question to Mr. McAuliffe: "Will this be a political benefit for the Democrats?" Mr. McAuliffe, not quite suppressing a grin, responded: "I hope not." There was your first mistake, Mr. Racicot: You let that obvious fib pass.

You could have put Mr. McAuliffe on the defensive for the whole show by jumping in and asking him to say that with a straight face. Then tell him, correctly, that his operatives are all over town making joyous partisan sport of the Enron issue. You could then have ended your interjection with a little homily about the thousands of employees whose lives are ruined and that we ought to be trying to protect these people not making political points.

Once again, Mr. McAuliffe was needlessly let off the hook when, in response to Mr. Russert's question about whether Enron had given $1million to the DNC over the last three years, Mr. McAuliffe said: "I can't speak to that. I wasn't there. I don't know." Sitting in my overstuffed chair, I was waiting for Mr. Racicot to deposit those words down the Democratic chairman's gullet. Mr. McAuliffe, the smartest money-man in politics, doesn't know whether his committee has received $1 million from Enron? Does anyone think Bill Clinton would have picked Mr. McAuliffe for his money-man if he were the sort of chap who doesn't pay attention to million-dollar checks sitting around the office? But these were only opportunities lost (although valuable ones).

The chairman got righteously pounded into the carpet over the most telegraphed punch since Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf" "Mr. Chairman, are you going to be lobbying while you are chairman?" Mr. Racicot went on for three paragraphs of legal gibberish and incomprehensible hair-splitting in which he talked about his duty to his "private interest clients" and admitted that "there will be contact." A better response would be heartily cheered by well-wishers.

Here's a suggestion: Point out that the sainted late DNC Chairman Ron Brown had the same relationship with his law firm and that current DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe continues to actively manage his multi-million-dollar financial empire with all the government contacts that requires. If you don't have a defense, at least have an offense.

Finally, and most appallingly, when asked whether the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (who is up for re-election this year) had effectively raised taxes by delaying a tax cut, Mr. Racicot blandly replied: "I think that argument could be made, in all fairness, yes."

Mr. Russert, struck dumb for the first time in his career, could only respond: "What a concession." Mr. McAuliffe looked at Mr. Racicot the way the walrus looked at the oysters. The New York Times reported that Mr. Racicot "… distinguished himself on national television as the first member of the inner circle to toss the president's younger brother overboard."

For weeks, senior White House officials have been able to accuse Sen. Thomas Daschle of implying a tax increase from a tax cut delay without feeling the need to finger Jeb Bush with the same political crime. If Mr. Racicot does not quickly learn how to duck a politically loaded question, this is going to be a very long election year for Republicans.

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