Last thoughts on Dean and Gore
Josh Marshall thinks that Gore’s endorsement of Dean could paradoxically help Clark, through the process of eliminating the other pretenders to the throne. If Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman et al drop out, it becomes a Dean/Clark horse race: I think Gore’s endorsement of Dean will accelerate the process of narrowing this race to Dean and ...
Josh Marshall thinks that Gore's endorsement of Dean could paradoxically help Clark, through the process of eliminating the other pretenders to the throne. If Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman et al drop out, it becomes a Dean/Clark horse race:
Josh Marshall thinks that Gore’s endorsement of Dean could paradoxically help Clark, through the process of eliminating the other pretenders to the throne. If Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman et al drop out, it becomes a Dean/Clark horse race:
I think Gore’s endorsement of Dean will accelerate the process of narrowing this race to Dean and one or two other candidates. More likely than not, one. And, as I’ve argued above, I think various dynamics point to that other candidate being Clark. This doesn’t mean the other candidate is an “anti-Dean” in some heavily weighted sense, as both Dean’s avid admirers and detractors tend to think. It is simply a reflection of the not-unreasonable reality that not every voter will gravitate to Dean. And as the field narrows, those voters will gravitate towards another candidate.
Josh probably knows a hell of a lot more about Democratic Party politics than I do, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t buy it. Here’s why: 1) Follow the money. The mainstream press is now obsessing over Dean’s new campaign model. The latest issue of Time reports that Dean’s coffers are bulging to the point where he’s offering money to others:
Just about the last thing you’d expect a presidential candidate to do is ask his supporters to give money to another politician — especially one who hasn’t endorsed him. So when Howard Dean quietly made that offer to Tim Bishop earlier this fall, the New York Congressman couldn’t quite figure out what to make of it. Bishop turned him down, noting that he planned to throw his support behind Senator John Kerry. But Iowa’s Leonard Boswell — who is uncommitted in the presidential race and expects to remain so — had no such qualms when Dean came to him with the same deal a few weeks ago. He hastily retooled his website so he could accept contributions over the Internet. Within 24 hours of the Dean campaign’s sending out an email appeal on Boswell’s behalf last week, a total of $51,557 poured in from 1,359 Deaniacs across the country, most of whom had probably never heard of Boswell before. It was an audacious move and a smart one too — and not just because it gave Dean a chance to do a big favor for the only Democratic Congressman from a state whose Jan. 19 caucuses are looking more crucial than ever in the fight for the nomination. By siphoning off some of his money supply to Boswell, Dean was sending a signal to the Democratic Party establishment on Capitol Hill — especially Southern Democrats — which may have some misgivings about the prospect of a presidential ticket headed by an antiwar nominee from the liberal Northeast. The meaning was clear: My rising tide can lift your boat too. Dean’s campaign manager, Joe Trippi, says the former Governor is considering making similar share-the-wealth offers to dozens of other Democratic lawmakers and candidates. To those Democrats who might be thinking of starting an Anyone-but-Dean movement, Dean is sending a none-too-subtle message: You need me as much as I need you. And maybe more.
Republican or Democrat, all politicians follow the funding. The more resources that Dean has to throw around for other campaigns, the less charged the opposition will be. 2) Pride matters for the rest of the field. The Gore endorsement managed to accomplish something that nothing else in the campaign had done to date — make Howard Dean’s challengers look as angry as Howard Dean (this also applies to Democratic-friendly media outlets — Will Saletan, Exhibit A). This has more to do with Gore than Dean — as Jeff Greenfield put it: “This to be candid with you is a problem Al Gore has had in the past in his relations with other politicians. There is a kind of reputation that he has earned over the years for not necessarily being the most graceful of diplomats in dealing with his fellow Democrats.” If the debate wrap-up is any indication, the other contenders are not going to go down without a serious rhetorical fight. The problem is, they’re all angry, which means none of them are dropping out anytime soon. This complicates the scenario where everyone but Clark falls away. At best, I suspect that by the time South Carolina rolls around, only Kerry and Gephardt would drop out if they were clobbered in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively. Edwards, Clark and Lieberman can easily split the Clinton wing of the party to the point where Dean skates through the Southern primaries. 3) Dean could win the general election. Forget polls comparing Bush to the Democratic challengers today. As I’ve argued elsewhere, Dean will prove to be more formidable than he seems now. William Kristol is right about this. I have it on good authority that the Bush team is equally aware of how close 2004 could be. Once this meme filters through the mediasphere, the strongest political rationale for opposing a Dean nomination will be squelched. Implicit hints from Dean that he would pick a VP with either Southern or Western roots would probably accelerate this as well. One other thing — as TNR’s &c. points out, Dean’s wooing of Gore demonstrates something counterintuitive about his political skills:
[F]or all the criticism of Dean as blunt and shrill and in-your-face, he seems to have a surprisingly soft and subtle political touch. Much more so than his critics give him credit for. And, if the outcome of the Gore endorsement is any indication, much more so than his rivals, too.
Again, Marshall may very well be right. I kind of hope he’s right, just because it would make for much more entertaining political theater. My hunch, though, is that at best Clark might pull a Jesse Jackson circa 1988 and win a big state after everyone thought Dean had it locked it up. But this would be a hiccup, not a horse race. UPDATE: Ryan Lizza has an outstanding analysis of Dean’s effect on the Democratic Party elite (link via Mickey Kaus) that anticipates much of what was said here and in my previous post on Dean/Gore. And it was written a month ago!
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner
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