What if Dean loses nomination?
December 26, 2003
I am beginning to worry that Howard Dean may not get the Democratic nomination. Follow the convoluted reasoning:
There are now three de facto political parties in the United States. In order of present strength, these are:
n The Republican Party, in control of all three branches of government and most of the statehouses, fat and sassy because the economy is rising and the war is being won.
n The Dean-Internet Party, its Bush-despising base so energized as to be frenetic, its leader happy to be the apostle of anger, its bandwidth bandwagon gaining momentum with each pulse of its cursing cursor.
n The Old Democratic Party, its base off base, its leadership fractured, its third-way ideology – vainly espoused by the Clintonian Democratic Leadership Council a lost cause without a rebel voice.
Can it be that the opposition to the reigning Republicans is deeply cleft in twain, as mouth-fillingly described above? What evidence is there that the present noisy jousting is not just the usual primary-season scuffling?
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Consider the “you’re a liar” clash between the Old Democrat poll front-runner, Wesley Clark, and the emerging Dean party’s hero.
Clark claims that Dean offered him the vice presidential nomination:”It was dangled out there … offered as much as it could have been.” Dean denies it flatly:”I did not and have not offered anyone the vice presidency.” Clark, egged on by his Clinton handlers, imputes a dishonorable motive to Dean:”Why is he squirming? Because maybe he’s done the same for a lot of other people.”
One of these men is not telling the truth. Most voters would say that one of these boldfaced names is a baldfaced liar, though charitable souls would call it a misunderstanding. (“I can’t make a `formal’ offer at this stage, Wes, but if I could, wouldja?”) Despite Dean’s”dangle,” Clark cast his lot with the Old Dems.
Following the he-said-he-said, the unforgiving Dean slammed Clark’s Clintonites and their ideological home, the Democratic Leadership Council. Updating his early declaration, Dean called for unity by deriding the DLC as”sort of the Republican part of the Democratic Party – the Republican wing of the Democratic Party.”
Stung, the DLC, now headed by Sen. Evan Bayh and the Bill Clinton guru Al From, complained online about Dean’s”insulting charge of crypto-Republicanism” and disapproved of”the brain-dead tactic” and”incoherent rage” of his followers.
This gets down to the Rockefeller-Goldwater level of eye-gouging that is not forgotten at the national convention. What if Dean, as the pollwagon now suggests, trounces the Clinton Establishment – Clark, Lieberman, Kerry, even Edwards and Sharpton – in the primaries? Will they loyally kiss the ring of the winner?
Of course they will. They’ll rally round to hold the Democratic Party together even as it is taken over by the Dean-Internet set. They’ll pay lip service and lose respectably, eyeing a comeback and takeover in “08.
But what if Dean loses momentum in Iowa, does”less than expected” in New Hampshire, gets clobbered in Carolina or blows his cool at media tormentors once too often? What if the Old Democrat center, revivified as a stop-Dean movement and helped by the pendulum press, actually stops Dean? Could happen. Then what?
He is not the sort who gives up easily. Nor is he likely to ask Clark or whomever in a smoke-free room for the No. 2 slot. Dean has grass-roots troops, a unique fund-raising organization, the name recognition and the fire-in-the-belly, messianic urge to go all the way on his own ticket.
Politronic chatter picked up by pundits monitoring lefty blogsites and al-Gora intercepts flashes the warning: If stopped, Dean may well bolt.
That split of opposition would be a bonanza for President Bush. In a two-man race, the odds are that he would beat Dean comfortably, but in a three-party race, Bush would surely waltz in with the greatest of ease.
Here’s my problem: Such a lopsided, hubris-inducing result would be bad for Bush, bad for the GOP, bad for the country. Landslides lead to tyrannous majorities and big trouble.
Which is why I worry about Dean not getting the Democratic nomination.
William Safire is a columnist with The New York Times.