Just Because He’s Paranoid …

Howard Dean has spent the past few months insisting that the Democratic Washington establishment has been out to torpedo his campaign, which up to now has sounded a bit like Ross Perot’s accusation that Republicans wanted to harass his daughter at her wedding. However, a strange group of donors did conspire in Iowa to run negative ads against the then-frontrunner, including some of his own donors:

Labor unions, former Democratic Sen. Bob Torricelli and one of presidential hopeful Howard Dean’s own donors were among big givers to a group that ran ads criticizing Dean in three early voting states. Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values raised $663,000 last year and spent $626,840 of it, a finance report provided to The Associated Press on Tuesday showed. … It drew some big donors, including two giving $100,000 each.
They are Slim-Fast Foods tycoon S. Daniel Abraham of Florida, who also contributed $2,000 each to Dean and several other Democratic hopefuls; and Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network LLC, a New York-based sports cable channel that televises New York Yankees’ baseball games. The network’s chief executive, Leo Hindery, contributed $2,000 to then-Dean rival Dick Gephardt.

Torricelli gave $50,000 out of his remaining campaign funds to the group that ran the ads, making Abraham, Hindery, and Torricelli responsible for 40% of the funding. In fact, the FEC may look into Torricelli’s contribution as it may have been illegal to convert those funds to such a group. (What a surprise — Torricelli acting unethically.) As far as Dean’s fair-weather friends go, it’s not unusual for donors to spread the wealth around a few campaigns, but it looks very strange that his supporters went out of their way to give money to hit ads like these.
The most interesting part of the story is how many Gephardt supporters were involved in this effort, including several of his union backers, who gave $130,000 to the effort. The group’s spokesman only explains that they didn’t buy a donor list from Gephardt, making it seem like a huge coincidence or that the Gephardt campaign coordinated with the group directly. Adding all this up, it’s hard to blame Dean for thinking that the party machine had it in for him.

Dean: VP A Possibility

Howard Dean, who has staked what’s left of his presidential campaign on Feb 17th’s Wisconsin’s primary, has acknowledged that he would consider a VP nomination:

During a campaign interview for the February 17 Wisconsin primary, Howard Dean left open the possibility he would accept a vice presidential nomination on a Democratic presidential ticket. The former Vermont governor’s comments came in an interview with a Milwaukee radio station on Friday.
Asked by radio station WMCS whether he would accept the vice presidential slot, Dean replied, “I would, to the extent, do anything I could to get rid of President Bush. I’ll do whatever is best for the party. Obviously, I’m running for president, but whatever’s best is what I’ll do. Anything.”

Dean’s problem has been that he will say and do anything to win, leading him to odd reversals of previous policy beliefs and unusual statements. In this case, Dean’s not likely to be called to serve at the bottom of the ticket anyway. For one thing, assuming that Kerry wins the nomination, the Democrats will want someone other than another New England liberal in the VP slot. More than likely, they’d prefer to see Edwards in order to broaden their appeal in the South. Also, Dean has proved himself a poor campaigner, prone to questionable statements and famously displaying a political tin ear in Iowa.
In fact, Dean’s sudden volunteerism rings a bit hollow when Dean has gone negative on every Democrat who’s polled above 10% in any state, except Sharpton, who made Dean look ridiculous in the Iowa debate. Why would Kerry or Edwards want Dean on their ticket now?

The Dean Dot-Com Bubble

Howard Dean’s backers are engaging in a bit of eulogism these days, looking back at the wreck his campaign has become and asking themselves what went wrong, or if it ever was right in the first place. The Los Angeles times writes on one possible cause of the grand self-delusion that the Dean campaign became — their vaunted Internet backbone:

The loose-knit group of academics, software writers and online commentators have identified a range of factors responsible for the campaign’s stumble, from the actions of Dean himself and former campaign manager Joe Trippi to those of the media establishment. But some are also blaming their own habitat, what they now describe as an “echo chamber” of Web diaries and Internet message boards that lulled activists into thinking they were winning votes for Dean merely by typing messages to one another.
“We may have been too glued to our monitors to remember that while elections get won by money … they are also won by people on the ground,” John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Internet civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote last week on his personal Web log, or blog.
“We will have to turn off our computers occasionally” to talk to voters in the outside world, he wrote.

Others, of course, have other explanations, including some grassy-knoll speculation that the mainstream media felt threatened by Dean’s Internet populism and abused his eyebrow-raising antics in Iowa in order to protect their monopoly on the information stream. It sounds exactly like the type of notion that the Dean campaign floated on occasion, such as the tinfoil-hat idea that President Bush knew about the 9/11 plot before it happened and did nothing in order to destroy our civil rights.
In fact, as the article alludes, the Internet was merely the medium, and the Deaniacs treated it as a shiny new toy — and they weren’t the only ones, either. The novelty of Dean’s Internet adventure attracted a number of people, the Times notes, that weren’t at all sold on Dean. Some of these donated money and some donated their expertise in computer programming, fascinated by the technical challenge but less so with the political message.
The mainstream media, however, only saw the raw numbers of money and volunteers without analyzing the depth of support it brought, and anointed Dean as front-runner. Far from trying to sabotage Dean’s campaign, journalists became fascinated with the best domestic political story in the fall of 2003. Howard Dean occupied the primary focus of the national news providers, eclipsing all other Democrats and even George Bush on occasion. The assumption of being in front afforded Dean the opportunity to be the primary respondent whenever any major event occurred. Far from sabotaging Dean, the media enabled Dean to an extent enjoyed by no other candidate — and not a single vote had been cast.
In the end, Dean’s undoing comes not from the national media nor his campaign’s Internet strategy. Both are merely tools for candidates to get their message and themselves across to the voters, the latter a novel and forward-looking device, to be sure. Dean undid himself by being himself: an inconsistent and temperamental governor of a small state who had never played on the national stage before last year, a candidate who abandoned positions opportunistically in order to align himself with the most radical and energetic of the Democratic base, and a speaker given to extemporaneous blunders and disinclined to act immediately to contain their damage. In short, Dean made a poor candidate for national office, and all the media and Internet did was to portray him as he is. For that, at least, we can be grateful to Howard Dean’s campaign.

Master Of The Obvious

The Howard Dean campaign, in an e-mail to his dwindling supporters, proclaimed the obvious and stated that Dean had to win in Wisconsin or it’s all over:

Howard Dean told supporters Thursday he will be out of the race for the Democratic nomination for president if he fails to win the Wisconsin primary, declaring “all that you have worked for these past months is on the line on a single day, in a single state.” … In the e-mail distributed in the early hours of Thursday, Dean wrote: “The entire race has come down to this: we must win Wisconsin. … We will get a boost this weekend in Washington, Michigan, and Maine, but our true test will be the Wisconsin primary. A win there will carry us to the big states of March 2 and narrow the field to two candidates. Anything less will put us out of this race.”

This requires a reality check for the Deaniacs. First, if Dean manages to win Washington, Michigan, and Maine, then a respectable second-place finish in Wisconsin would be no problem. Obviously, according to this statement, Dean’s campaign figures that Dean won’t carry any of those states, and looking at the polling numbers thus far, they’re right. Michigan polls show Dean trailing badly behind Kerry, 51%-9%, although he is in second place. Washington an Maine are caucusing and no polling data is yet available, but the Tuesday primaries in Tennessee and Virginia don’t look any more promising. Dean trails in both states behind Kerry, Clark, and Edwards in data that preceded Kerry’s impressive slate of victories this week. In those states which vote rather than caucus — and we’ve seen how the Dean campaign performs in caucuses — Dean isn’t likely to gather more than a handful of pledged delegates, while Kerry can expect to claim the lion’s share of those in play.
In short, by the time Wisconsin rolls around, Dean may already be so far behind Kerry in delegates and momentum that a Wisconsin victory will say more about Kerry’s chances than Dean’s. Dean points to Super Tuesday II on March 2nd and says that the majority of delegates will be won on that day, but among the big states voting on March 2nd, he’s only leading in New York (in polling from a month ago), while Kerry leads overwhelmingly in California and Ohio. In Massachussets, he’s in a statistical dead heat with Kerry in a poll taken last year, but I suspect the numbers are much different today, with favored son Kerry now the frontrunner.
Dean wants to buck up his flagging support by setting expectations low and hoping for a big enough win in Wisconsin to put some wind back in his sails, but if he doesn’t have an outright win by the time Wisconsin rolls around, he’ll be irrelevant already. I’m not sure what hiring Roy Neel did for Dean, but it’s looking more and more than Neel will wind up being his campaign’s eulogist rather than its strategist.

Dean Sinking in South Carolina, Won’t Get Delegates

The Post and Courier report that Edwards and Kerry are locked in a statistical dead heat — and Dean has fallen far off the pace (free registration required):

Edwards, a native of South Carolina and a senator in neighboring North Carolina, was at 21 percent. John Kerry was at 17 percent, Al Sharpton at 15 percent and Wesley Clark at 14 percent in an American Research Group poll.
Howard Dean was at 9 percent, Joe Lieberman at 5 percent, Dennis Kucinich was at 1 percent and 18 percent were undecided. South Carolina will hold its primary Feb. 3, a week after New Hampshire’s Tuesday primary.

Edwards has come up from 12 points to take the thin lead, but the real story is Dean. He’s tumbled from 16 percent and a contending position, or at least in a position to get some delegates. Now he’s in fifth place, behind Al Sharpton, of all people. Dean’s credibility is about to take a beating on the first Super Tuesday of this primary season.

Neel’s Strategy Memo to the Deaniacs

Thanks to alert reader Mark from Minnesota, we now have the latest strategy memo from Roy Neel, the new Howard Dean campaign chief. I’m posting it in its entirety. Neel attempts to explain the retreat announced this week from the February 3rd primaries, in what you could look at as the Ross Perot strategy:

This campaign has always defied conventional wisdom. Our extraordinary rise last year defied conventional wisdom—so did our fall in Iowa, and so did our comeback in New Hampshire after most pundits predicted Howard Dean was finished.
Conventional wisdom has been consistently wrong about this race.
So when conventional wisdom says a candidate must win somewhere on February 3, or that John Kerry will have wrapped up the nomination after fewer than 10% of the delegates have been chosen, we disagree.
Our goal for the next two and a half weeks is simple—become the last-standing alternative to John Kerry after the Wisconsin primary on February 17.
Why Wisconsin? First, it is a stand-alone primary where we believe we can run very strong. Second, it kicks off a two-week campaign for over 1,100 delegates on March 2, and the shift of the campaign that month to nearly every big state: California, New York, and Ohio on March 2, Texas and Florida on March 9, Illinois on March 16, and Pennsylvania on April 27.
In the meantime, Howard Dean is traveling to many of the February 3 states, sending surrogates—including Al Gore—to most, and conducting radio interviews in all. We believe that one or more of our major opponents will be eliminated that day, and that the others will fall by the wayside as our strength grows in the following days. As a result we have elected to not buy television advertisements in February 3 states, but instead direct our resources toward the February 7 and 8 contests in Michigan, Washington and Maine. We may not win any February 3 state, but even third place finishes will allow us to move forward, continue to amass delegates in Virginia and Tennessee on February 10, and then strongly challenge Kerry in Wisconsin.
Regardless of who takes first place in these states, we think that after Wisconsin we’ll get Kerry in the open field. Remember one crucial thing about the 2004 calendar—in previous years a front-runner or presumptive nominee would typically emerge after most of the states had voted and most of the delegates had been chosen. The final competitor to that candidate, even if he won late states, as many have done, has not been able to win a majority of delegates under any scenario.
This year is very different. The media and the party insiders will attempt to declare Kerry the winner on February 3 after fewer than 10% of the state delegates have been chosen. At that point Kerry himself will probably have claimed fewer than one third of the delegates he needs to win. They would like the campaign to be over before the voters of California, New York, Texas and nearly every other big state have spoken.
Democrats in Florida, who witnessed a perversion of democracy in November 2000, will not have a choice concerning the nominee if the media and the party insiders have their way.
We intend to make this campaign a choice. We alone of the remaining challengers to John Kerry are geared to the long haul—we’ve raised nearly $2 million in the week after Iowa, over $600,000 in the 48 hours since New Hampshire. No candidate—not even Kerry, who mortgaged his house and tapped his personal fortune to funnel $7 million into his campaign —will have sufficient funds to advertise in all, or even most, of the big states that fall on March 2 and beyond. At that point paid advertising becomes much less of a factor.
And we alone of the remaining challengers offer a clear choice to Kerry. Howard Dean is no Johnny Come Lately to the message of change—he has actually delivered change in Vermont. Howard Dean has the courage and conviction to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not politically popular, as opposed to the cautiousness, compromise and convenience that has characterized John Kerry’s 19 years in the Senate.
We believe that when the voters of the post-Wisconsin states—which constitute 75% of the delegates that will be chosen in the states—compare Howard Dean and John Kerry, they will conclude that Dean, not Kerry, has the best chance to beat George Bush, because only Dean offers a clear vision of change and a record of results that contrasts against the rhetoric emanating from Washington. We believe they will increasingly reject the rubber stamp presented to them by the media.
Has such a strategy ever worked before?
No. It’s never been tried.
But prior to this year, no candidate had ever raised $46 million dollars, mostly from ordinary Americans giving $100 each. Prior to this year no candidate for President had ever inspired the kind of grass-roots activity that has been this campaign’s hallmark. Prior to this year no candidate for President had so clearly revitalized his party, allowed it to reclaim its voice, and shifted the agenda so clearly to a call for change.
Let the conventional wisdom and the media declare this race over. We’re going to let the people decide.
Roy Neel
CEO, Dean for America

Roy Neel is not quite correct in one conclusion: this strategy has been tried, and it worked very effectively for Ross Perot in 1992. Faced with a poor organization and a chaotic third-party constituency, Perot retired from the race throughout the summer, staging a “draft” in late September to return to the national stage. While Perot didn’t get elected, he did allow Bill Clinton to win with just 43% of the popular vote. Perot avoided most of the bruising trench warfare and emerged with a huge boost from the media. He played the gadfly to perfection and captured 19% of the popular vote, despite being a paranoid schizophrenic (he claimed the Bush family sabotaged his daughter’s wedding).
Will this work for Dean? Maybe, although the dynamics are different. Neel proposes that after February 3 that Kerry will be the only viable candidate left. However, it’s unlikely that everyone will drop out after the first Super Tuesday, which means that Dean will still have to compete against Edwards and possibly Clark in Wisconsin, where Neel proposes to make his stand for Dean. Neel is also mistaken in thinking that the media will be anxious to anoint a clear winner by next week. Where’s the news in that? The media will be looking for ways to make sure that Kerry doesn’t have it locked up. They want conflict and tension as long as possible to keep people tuning in and buying newspapers and magazines.
At best, this is a “strategy” borne of practical necessity. The Dean campaign has run through their money faster and to less effect than they planned, and with Dean taking an unexpected beating early, the donations are slowing down. Money and endorsements are flowing to the candidate who’s winning, not talking about moral victories in finishing twelve points back in New Hampshire. Neel doesn’t have the means to run an effective media campaign for February 3rd, and so he’s making its absence seem strategic. The Ross Perot strategy may work, but it’s more likely to have a Ross Perot result.
UPDATE: No one caught this, but I claimed that Perot captured 19% of the electoral vote, when in fact it was the popular vote. Perot didn’t win any electors. I knew that but used the wrong term. (Bad Captain! No rum for you!)

Dean Flounders, Pulls Back Advertising

In what looks suspiciously like capitulation, the Howard Dean campaign has suddenly canceled its advertising in the seven battleground states voting next week on the Democratic nomination for President:

Howard Dean will not air ads in any of the seven states holding elections next week, officials said Thursday, a risky strategy that puts him at a distinct disadvantage with high-spending rivals for the Democratic nomination. With his money and momentum depleted, Dean decided to save his ad money for the Feb. 7 elections in Michigan and Washington state and, 10 days later, the primary in Wisconsin, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One of the stories on Joe Trippi’s departure published yesterday reported on strategic differences between trippi and Roy Neel, who took his place. If surrendering on Tuesday is part of the strategic realignment of this campaign, why did Trippi need to leave? I assume that Trippi saw this strategy as the acknowledgement of Dean’s faltering appeal that it is, and Trippi knows that the image of a candidate backpedaling and downsizing holds little attraction to people concerned about electability. Kerry already held an edge among Democrats for whom electability against George Bush was the main motivation for their vote in New Hampshire, and with the turmoil in the Dean camp the past two weeks, it’s sure to be more of an issue now.
Howard Dean looks increasingly incompetent as a national candidate. If he doesn’t compete for next Tuesday’s primaries, he will drop further off the radar screen and allow John Edwards to grab the momentum for second place. In two weeks, Howard Dean will be finished as a credible contender.

Dean On The Ropes

Governor Howard Dean’s sputtering campaign hit more bumps in the road today:

Democrat Howard Dean shook up his faltering bid for the White House on Wednesday, replacing his campaign manager with a longtime associate of former Vice President Al Gore [Roy Neel]. In a further sign of distress, the one-time front-runner implemented cost-cutting measures as he looked ahead to a series of costly primaries and caucuses, asking staff to defer their paychecks for two weeks.

Management changes and budget cuts do not indicate a campaign firing on all cylinders; it demonstrates the extent of the problem Dean now faces. With his opponents raising more cash and with seven states voting on Tuesday, Dean has to spend a ton of money and needs a steady hand at the rudder. I’m not sure why outgoing campaign manager Joe Trippi suddenly lost Dean’s confidence. Most of the problems Dean has he brought on himself, from his foolish notion that Saddam’s capture made the US “no safer” to his cranky rant against a retired Iowan and his manic third-place “acceptance” speech. Apparently, Trippi doesn’t know either:

One source said the former Vermont governor offered Trippi a spot on the payroll as a senior adviser — similar to the position Neel has held since Jan. 1 — but he decided to quit rather than accept the demotion.

Trippi’s hurt feelings are the least of Dean’s worries at the moment. Continued success in fundraising, regardless of whether it’s from large donors or small, depends on the perception that Dean has a strong chance of winning the nomination. A month ago, Dean was the only candidate in the race inspiring that confidence, but now Kerry has assumed that mantle. Donations will start to slow, if they haven’t already, leading to the suspension of pay for his campaign team. Donors aren’t the only ones losing confidence in Dean’s prospects:

One day after absorbing a double-digit defeat in New Hampshire at the hands of rival John Kerry, Dean publicly and privately expressed his determination to remain in the race. At the same time, in a conference call with members of Congress who have endorsed him, he was told bluntly that finishing second wasn’t good enough — that he had to show he could win a primary.
“He said he understood,” said one lawmaker who was involved in the call.
Dean’s campaign chairman Steve Grossman also said Wednesday that the candidate must win a presidential primary in the next two weeks to keep even his most loyal donor base — those giving modest amounts over the Web — contributing enough to make him financially competitive.

Translation: Dean must right his foundering campaign and win at least one of the primaries being held next Tuesday. Otherwise, what support he still enjoys will be looking for a way out.

Dean: National ID-Card Requirement For Internet Access, Gov’t Programs

The Drudge Report found a commentary from CNET News by Declan McCullagh asserting that Howard Dean actively supported a national ID card as recently as 2002. Not only that, but Dean wanted the ID card to be a requirement for Internet access so that identification information could be tracked on line:

Fifteen months before Dean said he would seek the presidency, however, the former Vermont governor spoke at a conference in Pittsburgh co-sponsored by smart-card firm Wave Systems where he called for state drivers’ licenses to be transformed into a kind of standardized national ID card for Americans. Embedding smart cards into uniform IDs was necessary to thwart “cyberterrorism” and identity theft, Dean claimed. “We must move to smarter license cards that carry secure digital information that can be universally read at vital checkpoints,” Dean said in March 2002, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “Issuing such a card would have little effect on the privacy of Americans.”
Dean also suggested that computer makers such as Apple Computer, Dell, Gateway and Sony should be required to include an ID card reader in PCs–and Americans would have to insert their uniform IDs into the reader before they could log on.

After 9/11, plenty of people talked about creating a national ID card in order to identify Americans and help tackle terrorism, but I don’t recall anyone proposing an ID-card requirement in order to access the Internet. Such a requirement would be a nightmare to engineer into a mature personal-computer market, let alone corporations that regularly access the Internet for business purposes. As McCullagh asks, what do you do about visitors with laptops? What do you do with Internet cafes and WiFi-equipped coffee shops?
More importantly, why does this proposal come from the same candidate whose made a key part of his campaign his anger at Bush’s supposed encroachments on personal freedoms? How can Dean reconcile his statement from March 2002 — “Privacy is the new urban myth” — with this part of his platform?

I am also deeply troubled by some provisions in the USA Patriot Act, which was enacted in the wake of 9/11 without meaningful debate. The Act gives overly broad investigative and surveillance powers to the government and strips federal courts of their traditional authority to curb abuses of power by the executive branch. Many of the Act’s provisions have little or nothing to do with combating terrorism; in fact some had been previously rejected by Congress. But the Ashcroft Justice Department took advantage of the climate of fear following the attacks to make fundamental changes in law enforcement procedures. I am concerned that this Act:
* allows law enforcement agents to obtain information about an individual from a library, bookstore, bank, telephone company, credit card company, hotel, hospital or university without individualized suspicion and without meaningful judicial review;
* expands the use of “sneak and peak” searches, even in non-terror cases;
* allows the police to collect information about an individual’s internet use without a showing of probable cause;
* allows the government to conduct wiretaps in criminal cases using the looser rules intended for intelligence investigations;
* authorizes the Attorney General to detain immigrants based on a mere certification that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” the immigrant endangers national security.

Dean proposed, in his speech for Wave Systems at Carnegie Mellon University, that this national ID card would be required to receive any government services, presumably including Social Security and veteran’s benefits. He also wanted this card to be equipped with “smart card” technology, allowing it to retain information as to when and where it was used so that a profile could be built from each card about the person’s travel and purchasing habits. Requiring the ID card to be verified prior to each Internet session would guarantee that everyone’s web-surfing habits and e-mail traffic could be stored in databases without a court order or any probable cause. And he’s complaining about Bush curtailing civil rights?
The national ID card died a natural death after the panic of 9/11 wore off and cooler heads prevailed. However, Howard Dean has never explained his support for the most radical of the ID-card proposals. McCullagh has tried to get an answer to this from the Dean campaign for the past ten days, to no avail. This is yet another indication that Dean is far from being the straight-talking Everyman he purports to be; instead, he is a loose cannon, grabbing onto the idea of the moment to ride its popularity. Such a man would be a disaster in the Presidency, even if he were temperamentally suited for the job.

What Color Is The Sky In Dean’s World?

Just when you thought that Howard Dean might have figured out that his mouth is his own worst enemy, the diminutive governor lets it get away from him again:

Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean said Sunday that the standard of living for Iraqis is a “whole lot worse” since Saddam Hussein’s removal from power in last year’s American-led invasion.
“You can say that it’s great that Saddam is gone and I’m sure that a lot of Iraqis feel it is great that Saddam is gone,” said the former Vermont governor, an unflinching critic of the war against Iraq. “But a lot of them gave their lives. And their living standard is a whole lot worse now than it was before.”

The Iraqi quality of life was better under Saddam Hussein? Under a regime that may have killed over 300,000 people and stuck them into mass graves? A regime where torture was commonplace and ethnic minorities faced state-sponsored oppression and even genocide? This is irresponsible rhetoric from a man who wants to be President. Regardless of whether one approved of the method of Hussein’s removal, factually speaking, the Iraqi people are no longer being tortured, nor are they dying at the rate of 5,000 a month from economic sanctions that was an integral part of the “containment” strategy that proved so worthless. Iraq no longer gasses its Kurds, nor commits genocide on its Marsh Arabs. Power and water are more reliable and reach many more people in today’s Iraq than under Hussein.
How can Democrats trust a candidate so far out of touch with reality? I doubt New Hampshire voters will endorse such an irrational candidate. I may have to downgrade my prediction to accomodate the damage if this gets much play in the media.
UPDATE: Glenn at Instapundit has a quote from an Iraqi with whom Dean needs to have a long, long chat …
UPDATE II: Jon at QandO tells me that I need to have a beer and calm down. I’ll agree to the beer part, anyway.