William Kristol has an interesting piece in the Post on how Howard Dean could win in 2004. Certainly Bush isn’t a shoe-in, and it will be a tough fight. Here’s what Kristol says:
Could Dean really win? Unfortunately, yes. The Democratic presidential candidate has, alas, won the popular presidential vote three times in a row — twice, admittedly, under the guidance of the skilled Bill Clinton, but most recently with the hapless Al Gore at the helm. And demographic trends (particularly the growth in Hispanic voters) tend to favor the Democrats going into 2004.
But surely the fact that Bush is now a proven president running for reelection changes everything? Sort of. Bush is also likely to be the first president since Herbert Hoover under whom there will have been no net job creation, and the first since Lyndon Johnson whose core justification for sending U.S. soldiers to war could be widely (if unfairly) judged to have been misleading
I believe the economy will continue to produce jobs over the next few months negating the economic vulnerabilities Bush currently faces. I also think the security situation in Iraq will stabilize, also negating that line of attack. Without those two key issues, the Democrats will have little to campaign on. Kondracke also mentions something else that I believe will be a negative for Dean:
And how liberal is Dean anyway? He governed as a centrist in Vermont, and will certainly pivot to the center the moment he has the nomination. And one underestimates, at this point when we are all caught up in the primary season, how much of an opportunity the party’s nominee has to define or redefine himself once he gets the nomination.
Dean has to jag to the center after the primary season. He cannot play the angry liberal card for the general election. His angry liberal attitude plays very well to other angry liberals, and that is what is driving his campaign. However, if you don’t see George W. Bush as the living embodiment of everything that is bad in the world from nuclear warfare to people who talk in the theater, there’s not much yet that would make you want to vote for Dean. Right now Dean’s campaign is essentially a one-note campaign of Bush bashing. It’s the right one note to play, and Dean plays it far louder and far clearer than the rest, but it still isn’t enough to get him far in the general election.
And that is Dean’s problem. When he does go to the center, how many of the radical left will follow him? Undoubtedly most of them will, but if Dean starts saying he’s for war, will the diehard ANSWER/MoveOn pacifist left start to balk? What about when Dean is forced to flip-flop on tax cuts? He can’t maintain a position that increasing taxes on the lower tax brackets is a politically or economically smart idea. What about when Dean’s radicalism has to be tempered by the need to appeal to a wider audience. That kind of transitition isn’t trivial, and Dean is not going to have an easy time making it, and in so doing he will either alienate some of his base or appear to be wildly inconsistent in his views.
Dean’s in a lose-lose situation politically. Either he maintains the angry liberal attitude and takes the risk that it will not be enough or he swings to the center and comes under attack from both sides. Dean has a very impressive campaign, and he won’t go down as hard as McGovern did and lose 49 states. However, that political momentum can’t last forever, especially against a President who has the benefits of incumbancy, a huge war chest, Karl Rove’s political genius, and a stance on issues far more popular than Dean’s liberal elitism. Dean will be a challenge, but Dean’s brand of angry liberalism may play well to the Democratic faithful, but it will turn off the moderates and swing voters a candidate needs to win.
UPDATE: William Kristol was the author of the piece, not Mort Kondracke. I seem to be getting my Beltway Boys confused again. Although Kondracke does have an article in Roll Call that agrees with my analysis of Dean’s electoral chances that’s well worth reading as well.