(Host) Commentator David Moats says that Howard Dean’s presidential campaign is at a turning point.
(Moats) What next for Howard Dean? Dean has been on a mind-bending roller coaster ride. He was the man of the hour, a rock star politician, cover boy for the magazines. Then he was the third place finisher whose roar before the TV cameras made him an object of ridicule. Now he has finished a respectable second in the New Hampshire primary, ready to fight another day.
There was a time when Dean and his supporters were looking at each other and saying, “You know, we might win this thing.” Now they know that if they don’t start winning some primaries somewhere, they don’t have a chance. But they’re still in the fight, and they’re in a position to continue the debate with John Kerry, John Edwards and Wesley Clark.
What should they be trying to do? Here is my suggestion. Dean has been most effective in taking on the policies of President Bush – on Iraq, taxes, and health care among other things. He has been less effective in the biting attacks against Dick Gephardt, Kerry and the other Democrats. And he has seen by now that attacking Kerry doesn’t seem to win him points with the voters.
There is a good chance that Dean will continue to come in second or third as the campaign proceeds through South Carolina, Arizona and all those other states. He can help the cause of all Democrats by sparing Kerry the harsh attacks.
There is nothing wrong with a good debate between Dean and Kerry, and Dean will want to persuade people that he would be a better president. But there’s a difference between healthy debate and destructive attacks. The destructive attacks are not likely to gain anything for Dean at the polls, and they will only create bitterness toward Kerry and toward Dean.
Dean has a great opportunity, should he not come out on top, to be a statesman, to rally his followers on behalf of the eventual winner and to
keep the focus of the Democrats on George Bush.
These could be some very tough weeks for Dean, slogging through a series of primaries, scoring a win here and there, maybe, but maybe only racking up a string of second and third place finishes.
He can do something positive with these weeks, which would help the Democrats make their case.
Dean derides the Washington insiders, such as Kerry. Well, so far the voters don’t seem to be so turned off by insiders. That may be a line of attack Dean could retire.
Dean will be doing himself a favor and a favor for the broad Democratic Party if he is magnanimous, placing the interest of the eventual winner ahead of his desire to score points in the next few weeks.
That is how he can score points. That is how he can preserve the esteem of millions. It may or may not win him the nomination. But there are millions of people right now who are probably saying, “Howard, please don’t do George Bush’s work for him.” “Howard, you have the power to do this right.”
This is David Moats from Middlebury.
David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.