Walter Mondale must take responsibility for whatever loss of momentum and confidence his campaign has sustained in the second fall of Bert Lance. Mr. Lance had spent much of the past seven years rehabilitating himself politically. He had first fallen from power as Jimmy Carter's budget director when it was alleged he had broken federal banking laws as a Georgia banker - charges he was either acquitted of in federal court or on which jurors deadlocked.
Mr. Lance had recovered a dominant position in Georgia and Southern Democratic politics. He had served as broker for disputes such as those between the Walter Mondale and Jesse Jackson camps. He had argued the case for a Southern orientation for the ticket for much of the past two years. His rehabilitation had seemed nearly complete when Mr. Mondale picked Lance to succeed Charles Manatt as Democratic Party chairman three weeks ago.
Then Lance's second fall began - to an undefined chairmanship of the Mondale campaign, and last week to resignation from the Mondale post entirely.
Walter Mondale and his advisers should have seen from the outset that a presidential campaign is no place to tinker with the career of another politician. Lance's links to Carter only made it more difficult for Mondale to escape his own Carter vice-president past. The clouded circumstances of Lance's departure from Washington made it more difficult for Mondale to talk about the tarnished reputation of President Reagan's fallen aides.
The lingering Lance controversy had become an impediment. Lance's reward for helping Mondale regain momentum in the South during the primaries should have been left at that - Lance's chance to demonstrate effectiveness.
A candidate cannot tolerate dissension in his own ranks. That was why Ronald Reagan fired his 1980 campaign chairman John Sears, ironically right after Sears had set up the decisive New Hampshire primary debate which sealed the defeat of arch challenger George Bush. In that case, Sears' brilliance wasn't enough. Pushed to a choice between Sears and his own cadre of longtime aides, Mr. Reagan went with his friends. Some of those friends later embarrassed him. But Mr. Reagan got the controversy behind him.
If Mondale was wrong to bring Lance into the campaign, he was right to shut the Lance affair off. Now he should get on to more important matters - such as why he thinks Southerners should vote for the Mondale-Ferraro ticket. After all, the public doesn't vote for campaign managers.