Iowa voters taught some Democrat candidates a few lessons last night they should have learned a long time ago. And they took those who hadn’t learned them to the woodshed.
Lesson number one is that arrogance doesn’t pay. I saw that in action back in 1980 when my father ran and lost in the Iowa GOP caucuses. After spending a lot of time there I realized that my dad was in trouble, thanks to his top campaign handlers who were running as if he were already president rather than as a man who wanted to be president. To put it plainly, they were arrogant, and that arrogance rubbed off on their candidate, a man to whom arrogance was a complete stranger.
My dad fired his staff the day of the Iowa caucuses with my approval, and went into the New Hampshire primary with a new staff and won.
Last night Howard Dean, whose arrogance leaked out of every pore in his body, learned that lesson the hard way. Coming in third, the man the pundits all said was probably unstoppable, got stopped. Coming in behind John Kerry was bad enough, but trailing behind newcomer John Edwards was a disaster. But the wound inflicted on his presidential hopes by Iowa voters probably wasn’t fatal. He still had some chance to recover.
But the wound he inflicted on himself was fatal. Unlike other defeated candidates, Dick Gephardt for example, he refused to accept defeat gracefully and instead went into a ranting, raving arm-waving tirade that proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he cannot control himself. The man we saw last night who could not bow out gracefully was not the man Americans want with his finger on the nuclear trigger.
As a GOP pollster told the New York Post after watching Dean’s bizarre performance “He’s crazy. This is everything that voters don’t want to hear from him. He’s just lost the Democratic nomination for president. He’s too hot.”
Arrogance doesn’t pay.
The next lesson was a cruel one for Dick Gephardt, a man who learned last night that his politics are relics of a dead past. The last time he ran in Iowa in 1988 he talked about NAFTA, trade and unions. This time he talked about NAFTA, trade and unions. He had nothing new to say. Time had passed him by. He was a voice from the past and Iowa voters are living in a very different present.
Lesson number three is that what happened to Gephardt also happened to the labor unions he relied on to cram the caucuses full of his supporters and overwhelm his opponents by the sheer force of numbers. They failed because they too are no longer relevant. While the media portrayed Gephardt’s union supporters as working men giving their time to help their champion, the fact is that the majority are skilled political operatives who do nothing else but work in politics. Long considered to be among the most skilled political professionals, they got their ears pinned back in Iowa last night. Like their candidate, they are relics of the past. They may have the money, but they don’t have the muscle.
Iowa voters showed that they were not infatuated by the politics of anger – the politics that motivated that allegedly vast army of Deaniacs. In comparison with their candidate, Kerry and Edwards came across as sane and sober statesmen. For the Deaniacs, it was all over but the shouting. And last night Howard Dean supplied that in spades. He also supplied his opponents with a video of him at his very worst – one they are sure to use against him as long as he’s a candidate.
As the primary campaign season rolls on, it will be interesting to see if what the Iowa voters displayed last night represents the opinions of Democrat voters across the nation. Iowa chose traditional politics; they chose to support candidates they believed could win in November. They may not like George W. Bush but they showed that it takes more than dislike of a President to defeat him. Even a majority of the antiwar voters turned their back on Howard Dean, the high priest of the antiwar movement.
Lesson number four: Opposition to the Iraq war is no longer an issue in the 2004 presidential campaign. It died along with the presidential hopes of Howard Dean.
©2004 Mike Reagan. You must contact us if you would like to print this column in your publication. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari Dawson Bartley Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561