has got to be this piece by Amy Sullivan about the prospects of Gen. Wesley Clark. Sullivan maintains that Clark can “win the primaries” and hence the nomination. She reaches this conclusion based on one erroneous premise after another. First, she proclaims that there is no real frontrunner. That was true a few months ago, but Howard Dean (apparently running away from Kerry in New Hampshire) is clearly the frontrunner now. Second, she dismisses Dean as “snakebit” because he opposed a war that 62 percent of the country still supports. But 62 percent of the people who participate in Democratic primaries and caucuses don’t support it. I’d be surprised if 33 percent of those folks do. Sullivan notes that Dean “lacks national security experience.” Count that as another plus among hard-core Democrats. What meaningful national security experience did McGoven, Carter, or Clinton have when they were nominated?
Sullivan acknowledges that Clark lacks name recognition, but argues that “if Laci Peterson can become a household name overnight, it’s hardly too late for Clark.” Yup, a murder in the family would probably put Clark on the map.
Ultimately, Sullivan’s argument boils down to the notion that “Clark is the best candidate to beat Bush in a general election.” But that’s the kiss of death when it comes to being nominated. Parties almost never nominate the candidate who seems most likely to win. That candidate is always the person who would attract the most swing and moderate voters, and by definition, such a candidate isn’t going to be popular enough with the party hard-core that decides the nominee. From Nelson Rockefeller to John McCain, these “dream” candidates never make it.
Sullivan notes, though, that “more than any time in the recent past, Democrats really want to win.” Yet of the candidates who are now in the race, the ones who seem most electable in the same sense as Clark — Lieberman and Edwards — haven’t gotten any traction. The Democrats want to win badly, but they aren’t desperate to win. They still view Bush as an upstart and see no reason to compromise their principles to beat him. This is normal after only one term out of power. Only an extended spell in the wilderness makes the party faithful willing to compromise, as occurred in 1992 with Clinton and, to a lesser degree, in 2000 with Bush.
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