Al Gore is 2016’s missing man

Al Gore is 2016’s missing man
© Getty Images

Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes unexpected step to stem coronavirus Push for national popular vote movement gets boost from conservatives MORE is the missing man in this year’s presidential election.

Except for a series of tweets, Gore has done little to make himself a player in Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton on US leading in coronavirus cases: Trump 'did promise "America First"' Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines Clintons send pizza to NY hospital staff treating coronavirus MORE’s presidential campaign. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Given his long ties to the Clintons — he was Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonClintons send pizza to NY hospital staff treating coronavirus Budowsky: President Trump, meet with all former living presidents Why Klobuchar should be Biden's vice presidential pick MORE’s vice president for eight years — and how Democrats have made his top priority, climate change, a campaign issue this year, Gore might be expected to play a higher-profile role in the race. 

Instead, Gore generally has been on the sidelines.

He endorsed Hillary Clinton before the Democratic National Convention and threw his support behind a down-ballot candidate in Iowa, but he’s mostly kept his eyes on the environment and climate change, the issues he's championed in the 16 years since he won the popular vote to take the White House but lost the Electoral College.

It’s clear, from statements Gore has given, that politics and his loss in 2000 still weigh on his mind. But the Democratic Party’s former standard-bearer has backed off significantly from the political world. As Gore has slowly turned his focus to climate change advocacy, his political portfolio has thinned. 

Allies say that’s by design. 

“The 2000 election was a fairly unsatisfying way to end that period of his life,” said Carter Eskew, a longtime Gore friend and consultant who worked on his political advertising campaign. “So it took some time. ... The process [of moving away from politics] is further along now than it was then.” 

Gore considered running for president in 2004 but declined and eventually endorsed then-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D). He was last seen at a major Democratic gathering in 2008, endorsing Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaCivil rights leader Joseph Lowery dies at 98 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Obama thanks Fauci, Stephen Curry during Instagram Live session MORE at the national convention and peppering a prime-time speech with both allusions to the 2000 campaign and warnings about the climate.

“It just so happens that the climate crisis is intertwined with the other two great challenges facing our nation: reviving our economy and strengthening our national security,” he said then. “The solutions to all three require us to end our dependence on carbon-based fuels.”

Since then, conventional politics has increasingly fallen to the wayside for Gore, while he has ratcheted up the climate advocacy that helped win him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He’s even found time to criticize President Obama, whom Gore knocked last year for holding an “insane” position on Arctic drilling.

He’s also managed to grow his personal wealth, using investments, positions at financial firms and Apple Inc., and the sale of his short-lived cable TV channel to build what Forbes in 2013 estimated was a $300 million net worth.

This year, he was a late endorser of Clinton’s campaign. He formally backed the Democratic presidential nominee in a string of three tweets on the first day of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. But he didn’t attend the convention, and, except for an interview with ThinkProgress in mid-August, hasn’t said much publicly about her candidacy.

That interview, though, is revealing. Reflecting on his 2000 election loss, Gore warned climate-inclined voters to vote for Clinton and not a third-party candidate, alluding to potential spoiler candidates like Green Party nominee Jill Stein. 

“The harsh reality is that we have two principal choices,” he said. “I respect those who analyze the situation differently, but in my experience it matters a lot.”

Gore has dabbled in other races this year, including endorsing Democrat Patty Judge in her race against Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyLobbying blitz yields wins for airlines, corporations, banks, unions Chances for drug pricing, surprise billing action fade until November Stimulus talks to miss McConnell's Monday deadline MORE (R-Iowa). 

But he hasn’t hit the campaign trail for Clinton, Judge or anyone else. And Gore representatives and friends say not to expect much more from him this year. 

“I don’t think it's necessarily fully conscious, but there’s been a ratcheting down, each election, of his political involvement,” said Eskew. “I think he's finding his purpose in the things that he's doing now.”

Eskew and others say Gore’s reined-in political activity has little to do with his feelings toward the Clintons. 

That relationship notably frayed after the 2000 election. Bill Clinton was reportedly upset about his minimal role in Gore’s campaign, a decision Democrats have said ultimately hurt the vice president’s chance to ascend to the Oval Office. But the relationship has thawed over the years, observers say, a shift that coincides with Gore’s slow estrangement from traditional politics. 

Regardless, Gore himself hasn’t indicated if he will hit the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton, though his office didn’t say definitively that he won’t. Clinton’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether it hopes Gore will take part. 

Gore’s priority, for more than a decade, has been climate change, and he’s kept a busy schedule. His group has hosted more than 30 climate activist training events, including three this year, in the Philippines, China and Houston, aides said.

Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University law professor who has studied the vice presidency, said Gore’s post-political-office work tracks with those of other former vice presidents: a few late-career attempts at higher office, followed by issue advocacy. 

But the degree to which Gore has embraced climate policy and worked to publicize it is different. 

“Nobody's quite like Gore in terms of the way he's taken one issue primarily and really been sort of the major national and maybe international spokesperson for it,” Goldstein said. 

“But, then again, nobody else had the sort of ending of his political career that he did. That was pretty unique, and sort of traumatic in a sense.”

When Gore does dip into politics, he keeps climate in the spotlight. His endorsement of Judge, for example, said she “firmly believes that protecting our environment and natural resources for future generations must be a priority.” 

And his support for Clinton is rooted in the contrast between her and Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE

As he told ThinkProgress in August: “I particularly urge anyone who is concerned about the climate crisis, sees it as the kind of priority that I see it as, to look at the sharp contrast between the solar plan that Secretary Clinton has put forward, and her stated commitment to support the Clean Power Plan, and the contrast between what she has said and is proposing with the statements of the Republican nominee, which give me great concern.”

Correction: An earlier version misidentified former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.