Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Ross Douthat has a fun post today comparing Rick Perry to Howard Dean in his 2004 campaign. Best point: "One interesting quality that Perry has in common with Dean, and which last night’s various back-and-forths brought out, is the extent to which both his national profile and his personal affect are much more ideological than his actual gubernatorial record."

I think that's correct, and worth some thought.

Here's the thing. What Dean meant for the Democrats in 2004 wasn't just that, as Douthat says, his public persona on the campaign trail...seemed to embody all the stereotypes associated with blue state liberals. What mattered a lot more was that he was pure and clean on the one issue that passionate Democratic activists cared the most about that year: Iraq. Many liberals that year -- well, not that year, but 2003 -- were basically very willing to overlook the plain and obvious fact that Dean wasn't really much of a liberal.

Perry's situation is a bit different. The thing about Republican primary voters and even activists this year is that there's nothing even remotely equivalent to Iraq as an issue. To make it perhaps overly speculative, my guess is that what Republicans are looking for, and why Perry jumped out to such a strong start, is much more basic: a fully qualified candidate who actually shares their position on issues. After all, it's been so long since they've had one. 2008 was full of candidates who had some grievous flaw or another, and most of 2012 is more of the same.

Perhaps that will mean that Perry is especially vulnerable to what relatively small deviations from conservative doctrine that Mitt Romney and other opponents can trump up. Or perhaps no one will care, and his cultural strengths will win out. Or: perhaps what really matters here is the difference between the two situations. In 2004, Howard Dean was one of a number of fully qualified Democratic contenders, with at least a couple of them (Kerry and Edwards) fully acceptable, if not exciting, to virtually every party group and constituency. This time around, Perry is one of at best two fully qualified Republican candidates, and he's facing someone who isn't really trusted by large segments of the party. In other words, while I do think that Douthat has a point, the truth is that Perry makes sense as a nominee (or at least as a very strong candidate) in a way that Dean never did. Or: Perry has every possibility of just inheriting the nomination by default, as long as he can convince most party actors that he's reasonably safe. Howard Dean never had a chance at that.

Truth is, I have no predication at all about whether Perry or Romney will wind up the GOP nominee. But it is shaping up as a fascinating race -- although to tell the truth I suppose I've found each nomination fight since I've been following this stuff fascinating. Except I suppose for Gore/Bradley 2000.


  1. Quick question: if Dean hadn't screeched his itinerary in the aftermath of his disappointing showing in Iowa, what factor would have delivered the coup de grace to his 2004 campaign? Or was Iowa that factor, with the scream just an entertaining coda?

  2. I think Perry's appeal to conservatives is pretty simple. He's George W. Bush only more so.

  3. A quibble: A lot of people liked Dean because he was pure in many ways, not just on Iraq. Since he wasn't a career politician, he didn't have the record of compromise and endorsement of mediocre candidates that most politicians have. He could also speak more bluntly since he could go back to being a doctor. It was refreshing. I can't cite sources, but that's what I remember.

  4. In 2004, Howard Dean was one of a number of fully qualified Democratic contenders, with at least a couple of them (Kerry and Edwards) fully acceptable, if not exciting, to virtually every party group and constituency. This time around, Perry is one of at best two fully qualified Republican candidates, and he's facing someone who isn't really trusted by large segments of the party.


    Boy, I disagree on just about all counts. Yes, Dean was "qualified" in 2004, as most governors likely are, including one from little Vermont. But neither Kerry nor Edwards could be considered qualified, and their equivalents are getting beat like a drum in the R primary, as we're seeing today.

    For one, congresscritters don't get to the WH, generally speaking (and it only happened in 2008 because the Miss America Finals just happenstanced that the final 3 candidates were congresscritters, so it occurred by default).

    And for two, the Democrat primary has those hated super delegates, said mafia putting out a hit on Dean in 2004, allowing a weak candidate through to the general, and then they again put out a hit on Hillary in 2008, allowing another unqualified candidate to go through.

    Anybody think Hillary would be in the hole Obama's in right now? Anybody think Billy Jeff would counsel Hil to commit political suicide with Bailouts, Porkulus, Cap & Tax and HillaryCare 2.0? Not a chance, baby.

    A bloody primary doesn't always send up a strong candidate (see McCain), but taking a look at the past 3 doffuses sent up by the D's, neither does that system. And this season's bloody R primary, which will undoubtedly send up an R governor who blows out Obama (as many of us predicted would occur only 4-5 months into Obama's presidency, when the Independents started fleeing him and it was obvious experience would win out in 2012), is proof enough of the need for change on the Left.

    Bush was a weak candidate in 2000, and won despite peace and prosperity, in an era of a popular incumbent president, only because Gore was weak, as was Kerry, as is Obama. The only surprise here is that the D's won even one of those elections, given their weak candidates. But they should have won all 3.

    Gephardt would be finishing his second term right now, if the super delegates had a brain in their heads, and used that flawed system to advantage to pick a candidate that could actually defeat the opposition. But since they don't know how to super delegate properly, that system needs to be changed. Might as well have the people choose, bloody as that might be. Let President Romney/Perry be impetus for that necessary change.

    And would President Gephardt have headed off the crash? We'll never know, but Schumer's bought off Senate, including Obama, certainly did everything possible to bring it on... so perhaps Gephardt could have been a counter balance.

  5. "Perry's situation is a bit different. The thing about Republican primary voters and even activists this year is that there's nothing even remotely equivalent to Iraq as an issue."

    'Even remotely equivalent' is a low bar to clear. So... what about Obamacare? Party activists seem pretty agitated about that. Perry is pure on Obamacare just like Dean was pure on Iraq. And Romney is surely not pure on health care just like Kerry was not pure on Iraq.

  6. CSH: your last sentence has it exactly right. Dean faded in December, but the story of "Dean = frontrunner. And Interwebs change everything!" was already the dominant frame, and reporters and editors DO take Xmas vacations, so there really weren't stories pointing out that Dean's star had already burned out. Hence, the other story that reporters like to write: elections change everything. The scream just made it extra-salacious to the cable nets.

    Anon: how, exactly, did superdelegates toss out Dean? There's the time problem: they don't get their fully-fleshed say until the end. But then there's the other problem: Dean was LEADING in supers... http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/17/politics/main593845.shtml. Dean flamed out, but he did so among the party writ rather large, not just amongst the superdelegates, where he had almost TWICE as many committed to him as did Gephardt. (In fact, 2004 is one of the more problematic cases for The Party Decides argument, I think).

    Benhayden: I agree, but only correlationally. Obamacare isn't why they're agitated. They didn't seem to object to the individual mandate when McCain was proposing it in 2008, and the idea has roots back in Nixon and the first Bush Administration. Rather, party activists mostly object to Obamacare because Obama did it, just as they hate the stimulus made up of a lot of tax cuts and Stimulus II made up of tax cuts. Democrats likely would have felt differently about Iraq if it was a Democratic war. For example, in 2003, 62% of people favored universal coverage, and that included healthy chunks of Republicans. By 2010, the gap in approval of partisans of Obama's job was widest not for taxes, terrorism, or the economy, but for health care. The health care debate allowed partisans to be TOLD what they were for or against. Thus, health care isn't really the issue that Perry has. What's really going on (and the same could be said of the Democrats on Iraq in 2008) is that people are trying to lay claim to the mantle of #1 fan of their team. The only thing is that some of those idiot fans are convinced in their own minds that they like their team because of X or Y. For some of them, that's true. But for many others, they like X or Y because they like that team. Either way, pledging fealty to X or Y is a good strategy. In the end, Romney is vulnerable as you say, but it's really because he isn't "one of us." In a very real sense, Romney's Mormonism ties into his apostasy on health care, which wasn't apostasy when he did it.

  7. @CSH - Dean lost Iowa to Kerry; the "scream" was just the icing on the cake. Dean needed to win Iowa to stand even a slim chance of getting the nomination.

    @ModeratePoli - Dean was from the moderate wing of the Vermont Democratic Party (endorsed by the NRA) and had held elected office since 1982 (first as state rep, then as lt. gov.---both part time positions, then as gov. after Richard Snelling died midterm). He was elected governor in his own right five times. Many Vermont Democrats were stunned that their establishment governor was reincarnated as a progressive hero during the 2004 presidential campaign.

    @Anonymous - Granted, it's rare for US senators to get elected president (twice since WW II). It is, however, common for them to get their party's nomination (e.g., Stevenson, Kennedy, Goldwater, McGovern, Dole, Kerry, McCain, Obama).

    I'm not wild about superdelegates, but in the Democratic presidential contests you cite, they followed the lead of primary and caucus voters rather than overturning their decision. For the record, Gephardt dropped out of the 2004 presidential race after finishing fourth in Iowa with 11% of the votes.

    FWIW (not much, I know), I think Hillary would be in pretty much exactly the same situation as Obama---if not worse---if she had been elected in 2008. (And I'm a generally a fan of Hillary Clinton.)

    If you don't like Gore, Kerry and Obama, that's fine and certainly your prerogative. Let's at least be clear that the Democratic presidential candidate has won the popular vote in 4 of the past 5 races. I like Dick Gephardt well enough too, but since leaving the House he's lobbied for (among others) Boeing, UnitedHealthGroup and PhRMA. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but hardly a record that leads one to think he'd have acted much differently than Pres. Obama or a Pres. Kerry (Pres. Bush being obviously a different case).

  8. MJ,

    So it's those stupid voters again, eh? They're too stupid to agree with you again? ;-)

    I think you need to understand that things aren't important until they are, for most people. Polling is fine, and I eat it up, but don't get too carried away with it, on the issues side of things. You shouldn't extrapolate issues based polling too far, as we need the clarifying phenomenon of elections to bring clarity and gravitas to that issues polling. That's when the rubber meets the road.

    Much of the Left went for the Iraq invasion in 2003, for example, as the issue was not at full ferment. How'd that all work out, over the longer term? You set up for a longterm occupation of a foreign land, and I guarantee you trouble politically. Obama knows this now, and veered sharply away from Libyan occupation, if you notice, even though he went for extra constitutional military action. The entire body politic has learned that lesson, it seems. And he's likely gonna pay dearly for nearly quadrupling our troop counts in Afghanistan, as further proof of that occupation shy electorate.

    Socialized medicine is anathema to the mainstream of this country, no matter that the Left prays at that shrine, or that discrete poll data might say otherwise. Massive steps towards it, no matter that the Left considers ObamaCare nothing near what they really have in mind for us, just won't ever fly with the mainstream. And the fact that you're using McCain as proof of anything should be your first clue of that. McCain is as flawed a politician as we've seen in the past 1/2 century. He's just rancid. If he's for it, rest assured there's critical mass against it. He's nobody's catalyst or team builder or bell cow. He's just another self-important cow, reverse-milking the system.

    In 2004, somebody scared up some BIG money and put out a political hit on Dean, in Iowa, which massappeal confirms to have been the critical point in that nomination. Kerry was broke, and I've never had it explained how that hit came off, but I think we all know it did, as the campaign advertisements didn't just buy themselves. The lefty establishment hated Dean. They hated Dean just like the R establishment hates Paul today, or worse.

    I just see that super delegate process as a huge corrosive, and flawed. I don't buy any CBS poll as to the super delegate status in 2004, and we saw in 2008 that those votes were all in play (and some were likely bought, and there ain't no campaign finance law as to the buying, in terms of $$$, favors and contracts.).

    That system promotes a critical mass, of unaccountable insiders. It is ademocratic.

    We'll have to disagree on the Hillary thing, ma. I can't imagine in any scenario that she'd have made the suicidal blunders Obama has, both policy and political failures. It's just been a fustercluck. Yes, you likely favor some of those blunders, but the Clintons know better, I believe. They'da rubbed the corners off all this, at minimum. She'da held many of those Independents. Obama has kissed them off forever.

    Just as an aside for the reasonable Midwest moderate Gephardt, he was significantly responsible for brokering the arrival of Mullaly to Ford in 2006, and union and management acceptance of a much hated non "car guy" into Detroit, and the ultimate Wall Street approval of the whole deal, and the $23B loan that allowed a failing Ford to avoid a looming bankruptcy and then survive through the crash a couple years later. The guy has some chops. He may be cashing in in his elder years, but he's a sensible sort, and far beyond the unaccomplished past 3 D presidential candidates. That's how you know that super delegate system is a failure. It killed Dean and couldn't arrive on a Gephardt. Thus, the textbook empty suit... Kerry. It's time to fix it.

  9. The innovation Dean brought was mass volunteer mobilization and small dollar internet donations. While both were useful, the campaign itself was rotten. Iowa was a telling signal that Dean et al just weren't serious about winning. They were serious about making a splash, and they did, but not putting together a winning campaign.

    I dont' see any equivalent break thru on the Perry side. this is where D are different than R's. I think every winning D campaign brings a new level of innovation on HOW to win the primary.

  10. "...if Dean hadn't screeched his itinerary in the aftermath of his disappointing showing in Iowa..."
    Dean's "screech" was shopped in an audio studio. He was speaking to a wildly enthusiastic crowd of people and the sound of the crowd was muted for the final result.


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