In the matter of mischief-making, party-threatening ministers, of which both parties have one each, the Democrats think they fared a shade better than the Republicans this week.
Mention the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson to a Democrat and he will sigh and say, "Yes, but what about Pat Robertson?" -- whereas a Republican who pales at the name of the Rev. Robertson, says, "Yes, but what about Jesse Jackson?" Arguments occur over which is the heavier cross to bear.
Right now, Democrats are breathing easier because Jackson lost his last-minute, flat-out push to unseat Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), the 76-year-old veteran chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who won handily over a black rival in his 60 percent black district.
Privately, some of his colleagues say that Rodino should have made good on a twice-made promise to retire; they complain that he will not tackle tough issues like contra scandals.
But he is an ornament of the party, having presided over the Richard Nixon impeachment hearings with impeccable dignity and fairness.
Rodino was deeply wounded at the thanks he got for a flawless record on civil rights.
Democrats are happy to have assurance through Rodino's salvation that Jackson is not yet running their party. None, however, would breathe a word of delight for the record.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) had no comment. "He looks at me and he thinks it's Richard Daley. I am not going to advise Jesse Jackson. If I were to say something . . . he would do just the opposite. Why should I get enmeshed with Jesse Jackson?"
Said Rep. Tony Coelho (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, "The blacks in Newark showed they know who brung them to the dance. I would rather have Jesse Jackson than the problem the Republicans have with Pat Robertson."
Democrats tell themselves that Jackson will have competition as black leader in 1988: L. Douglas Wilder, newly elected lieutenant governor of Virginia, and Rep. William H. Gray III, the Pennsylvanian who is serving with distinction as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Gray had nothing to say about Jackson's anti-Rodino activity.
"That's democracy," he said blandly.
Republicans are equally restrained about the Rev. Marion G. (Pat) Robertson, who is, they say off the record, a great trial.
The strapping fundamentalist preacher has, of course, embarrassed and humiliated presidential hopefuls Vice President Bush and Rep. Jack Kemp (N.Y.) by his strong political debut in Michigan, in the first stages of a virtually endless delegate-selection process. Robertson, who is not yet an announced candidate for the presidency -- he is awaiting word from God -- made a impressive show of force in the precincts.
He has almost unlimited funds, a huge built-in campaign army -- 4,000 employes at his Christian Broadcasting Network -- and a potential voter pool of the 28 million viewers.
Democrats glumly conclude that Jackson will run again and cause havoc to their nominee, particularly in the southern primaries.
Like Robertson, Jackson uses the altar for a political power base and speaks to his own on the "soul" radio network. But he never had the tight organization that Robertson commands or a campaign staff worth the name. Robertson is cool on television, Jackson is "hot" and can, say Republicans, send middle-of-the-road southern Democratic voters right into the GOP column.
Robertson makes Republicans nervous. His far-right ideology, his harping on social issues, could turn off the voters between 25 and 45 who have flocked to Ronald Reagan. A Republican Party led and driven by born-again Christians is not exactly what the more establishment types crave.
Democrats pray that they will learn to how to handle Jackson. Poor Walter Mondale never acquired the knack, being alternately diffident and defiant -- and powerless to break Jackson's hold on black voters.
Republicans give Robertson the kid-glove treatment, as they must. They hope that other electronic clerics may be able to assert some sway over the congregation. Bush has the Rev. Jerry Falwell in his corner, which is a mixed blessing, as Falwell is poison in the polls since he called Nobel-winning Bishop Desmond Tutu "a phony."
The opportunities for mischief abound on both sides. Politicians of both persuasions think in their hearts that the pope was right when he ordered all clerics out of politics.