Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Okay, I'm bored and running a simulation that will take a while. Let's play the most boring game in politics: handicapping the 7 dwarves.
We last saw these critters in 1988. Then, they were Babbitt, Biden, Dukakis, Gephardt, Gore, Hart and Simon. (Oh, Jesse Jackson ran that year, too - same in second - but I don't think we're allowed to refer to him as a vertically-challenged individual.) Dukakis, the hobbittiest of the bunch, took the palm that year. This year, with Gore out of the running, the dwarves number at least seven yet again: Daschle, Dean, Edwards, Gephardt, Kerry, Lieberman, Sharpton are considered most-likely to run, with potential appearances by '88 alums Biden and Hart (!) as well. How do they rate? And who is playing whom?
Daschle is playing Gephardt. The Dems are different now than they were then; there's less room for a Gephardt '88 run of forthright economic nationalism and middle-of-the-road stances on social issues. But Gephardt ran as the boring party leader type that he was and Daschle will be running as that this time. If he runs. Which I think he won't, 'cause he'll poll terribly.
I don't know anything about Howard Dean, and I don't need to. Dean is playing Babbitt (who in turn was playing Udall): the nice nobody whom everyone basically likes and thinks is a decent person but who doesn't have a prayer of winning.
Edwards is playing Gore. There's a notion current in The New Republic and other bastions of Gore-worship that Gore ran in 1988 as Scoop Jackson: a firm anti-Communist believer in a moral foreign policy and a traditional New Deal Democrat message on domestic issues. He didn't. He ran as a Southern moderate. He was pro-tobacco and tried to finesse the whole batch of "social issues" that loom ever larger in Democratic ranks: abortion, guns, death penalty, etc. His history in foreign policy matters was to develop tactical responses to the GOP that seemed reasonably "pro-defense." His record was similar on social and economic issues. Edwards will be playing the same game this year: young, fresh face, and culturally credible for a general election because he's from the South, but with no really unique message of his own to deliver other than his moderation. I continue to predict, however, that Edwards will not run, or that if he does he will quit early, before Super Tuesday. It's too expensive a game to play for fun, and he knows he's a long-shot to win, if only because he's got nothing to run on yet. Also, he's going to have to work hard to defend his Senate seat in '04; if he loses that, he's out of the game altogether. He's gonna wait until '08.
Gephardt is not playing any of the Democrats who ran in 1988. He is playing Bob Dole circa 1988, and predict he'll do as well: win in Iowa, lose in New Hampshire, then fade to black after Super-Tuesday. His conversion to muscular foreign policy on Iraq will not win him any primary votes, and even if it could I don't think he'd be terribly convincing as a spokesman for a hawkish foreign policy. He'll do decently because of his union support, but it won't be enough.
Kerry is, in many ways, playing Dukakis. He's a "card-carrying" liberal from Massachusetts who compares himself to John Kennedy and has a nutty wife. He will likely run a strong campaign and become increasingly credible as rivals fall away. But he bears some similarities to other Democratic candidates of the past. He resembles Hart in his messianic self-regard and his personal recklessness (in Kerry's case, this is expressed in dare-deviltry rather than in womanizing). He resembles Gore in his lack of human touch. But he's not running on new ideas and he won't be running as a moderate trimmer. (Then again, this race won't be about new ideas; the Democrats aren't convinced at all that they need new ideas.) So mostly I think he's Dukakis. I maintain that Kerry's the front-runner: he's got the money, he's got the message, he's got a semi native-son thing in New Hampshire and a strong organization in South Carolina, and there is no credible Clinton/Carter moderate in the race who can take the nomination away from him. If his personality doesn't cause him to self-destruct, he's my bet to be the nominee. If he doesn't, I retroactively change my view that he's playing an amalgam of Dukakis and Hart; instead, he's playing Biden. Biden's the one Dukakis was most worried about early in the campaign. Then his weird personality caused the campaign to self-destruct. It could just as easily have been Dukakis' weird personality to cause his campaign to self-destruct, in which case it's entirely possible that Biden would be a footnote to history instead.
The New Republic desperately wants Joe Lieberman to run for President because he's the only Democrat to full-throatedly support war in Iraq, and the staff of TNR is still voting for the late Scoop Jackson. But if Lieberman runs, he'll be running as Paul Simon: another decent fellow whom everyone likes and everyone thinks would make a great veep, if not quite a President, but whom not enough people will vote for. Lieberman is, of course, well to the right of where Simon was in 1988. But he won't run that way, because he's going to want to win. He is not going to lead a revolt in Democratic ranks, and if he did he would lose and lose badly. But running as a mainstream Democrat, Lieberman will be less convincing than if he ran an issue-oriented campaign designed to shake up the party rather than win. Lieberman is not trusted by unions, or minority pressure groups, or the feminist lobby. He could pander to these folks to get them onboard if he was likely to win, but he's going to be a long-shot from the start so why would they go for him instead of someone with a record they like better? The enviros like him, of course, but they like Kerry just as well. The insurance and pharmaceutical companies who bankroll his Senate campaigns will be exposed as a liability in the primary, and again, there are other candidates who are sufficiently business-friendly that they'll be able to raise money: Kerry in particular will have little trouble in this area. If Lieberman really throws himself into the contest, he could do as well as Paul Tsongas did in 1992, and expose the fact that a significant minority of Democrats are worried enough about Iraq to want the party to have a more muscular stance, just as Tsongas exposed the fact that a significant minority of Democrats worried enough about the deficit to want some restraint on spending. But it's a minority. Lieberman is Simon: nice, clean, well-regarded, and doomed to lose this race.
That's the list. Right?
Oh yeah, Sharpton will be playing Jackson. I wouldn't call the first time tragedy, but the second time will definitely be farce. The only question is: how much damage will he do to the Dems? Donna Brazile is now encouraging black officeholders from Southern states to run as "favored sons" in every Southern primary, to encourage black voters to vote for them rather than for Sharpton. The practical impact of this, of course, is that black voters will have no influence at all on the choice of nominee. Interesting that Brazile, a black woman who worked for Gore and Dukakis, would advocate such a strategy. One of these days, the angry black vote is going to make the national Democrats as hopelessly ungovernable an organization as the New York Democrats. Sharpton is the man to make it happen. Can he do it this year? I vote no - but I'd be foolish to bet on it.
So that's my prediction of the race, based on the current players. Gephardt wins Iowa, Kerry wins New Hampshire, Lieberman, Edwards (if he runs) and Sharpton hang on through South Carolina and maybe through Super-Tuesday. If Kerry wins South Carolina by putting together a coalition of Democrat vets and black voters, he puts it away early. If not, and Lieberman or Edwards wins it, we've got more of a horse-race, but I still think Kerry pulls it out in the end. If Sharpton wins any primaries, the party will begin to