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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bachmann = Dean?

At Politico, Jonathan Martin compares Michele Bachmann to Howard Dean, who had an early surge in the 2004 Democratic nomination contest, only to fade behind John Kerry.

“Like Dean, she fits the mood and moment of her party,” said veteran Republican strategist Tucker Eskew.

The challenge for Bachmann is to avoid the same questions that plagued and ultimately undermined the former Vermont governor’s upstart campaign. In other words, if Mitt Romney represents John Kerry in the “Dated Dean, Married Kerry” bumper sticker slogan, how does Bachmann escape playing the role of Howard Dean?

As demonstrated by Dean’s failure in 2004 and Obama’s success four years later, there’s a difference between attracting large crowds and creating a campaign infrastructure that can turn out voters to win caucuses and primaries. One can start a movement with the first, but winning the nomination requires both.

Bachmann faces the same fundamental problem as Dean: the force powering her into contention — the base’s unalloyed contempt for a president they consider illegitimate — contains the seeds of her undoing.

“[Democratic primary voters] were still so afraid of what Bush could do in a second term that in the end they got pragmatic,” recalled Joe Trippi, who managed Dean’s campaign. “Obama engenders that same anxiety and fear within the Republican base.”


“Two years before the Dean campaign, there was not a tea party movement that had started organizing in communities and raising money online,” Trippi said. “We didn’t have anywhere near the head start, this sort of uprising within our party. We started it.”

Even so, the desire to beat Obama among Republicans is as intense now as it was with Democrats and Bush eight years ago — and GOP regulars will still play an important, if somewhat diminished, role in the nominating process.

“We aren’t the establishment party that we were for 30 years, but we haven’t lopped those voters out of the coalition,” said Eskew. “We’re more layered. It’s a hybrid model. And our nominee is going to fit the mood of insurgency with a proveness to win elections and govern that Republicans still want.”
A couple of weeks ago, Jay Newton-Small covered the same ground at Time:

You have a frontrunner who is playing it safe and betting that his credentials will give him a leg up on the key issue of the cycle: In 2004, John Kerry’s foreign policy experience and military service were supposed to give him the edge on Iraq, and in 2012, Mitt Romney’s private sector background is suited for an electorate concerned about the economy. You have an old timer shooting high on his last lap: Dick Gephardt played that role in 2004 and Newt Gingrich seems to be after something similar this time around. You have the young, telegenic challenger whose resume looks great on paper: John Edwards and Tim Pawlenty. There’s the Beltway darling with the potential to soar if he can ignite a spark – and has the energy to see it through: Wes Clark and Jon Huntsman. And you have the populist firebrand: Howard Dean in 2004 and Michele Bachmann in 2012.

As in 2004, the challengers’ base is similarly discontented with the field. The GOP base arguably hates Barack Obama about as much as Democrats loathed George W. Bush. But will that inspire pragmatism in the form of picking Romney, the guy with perhaps the best credentials to beat Obama, or will the Tea Party energy of 2010 carry over to boost an insurgent the base truly loves, like Bachmann? In 2004, many Democrats’ slogan was ‘Dated Dean, Married Kerry.’ It’s hard to imagine folks saying, ‘Dated Bachmann, Married Romney,’ in 2012′s climate.