Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Wesley, Bill and Hillary

John Fund comments on the extraordinary welcome that many Democrats have given Wesley Clark's announcement that he was joining the presidential race - none less enthusiastic than Bill and Hillary Clinton. He also notes that Fox News reports that Senator Clinton's office doesn't deny that a role for her a co-chairman of the Clark campaign "is in the works and might happen soon."

Why would the Clintons do such a thing? Mr. Fund suggests:

It is no secret that [the Clintons] are suspicious of Dr. Dean, the current front-runner, whom they fear would be trounced so badly against President Bush that he could hurt Hillary's prospects in 2008. Should Mr. Clark be elected president, the Clintons would have a strong ally in the Oval Office. If he does well but doesn't get the nomination, he may be viewed as a suitable running mate for Mrs. Clinton or some other Democratic nominee in the future. .... To the extent that [Mr. Clark] succeeds, the Clintons will see their already substantial influence in the Democratic Party grow.

That's all plausible. But there is another issue here for the Clintons: Right now, the Democratic National Committee is essentially a Clinton dominated entity, and so is the much of the rest of the national Democratic structure. There is the distinct possibility that Dr. Dean - if he is nominated - may sweep away the Clinton influence, as pollster Zogby describes:

Clinton supporters have other reasons to be leery of a Dean candidacy. In June, the Drudge Report noted that Mr. Dean had confided to associates that he intended to change the leadership of the Democratic National Committee if he became the party's nominee. A Dean adviser told Drudge that "it is important . . .To mark a new beginning, cut ties from the past." Mr. Dean feels that Mr. McAuliffe, who served as Mr. Clinton's finance chairman in the 1996 election, has not performed well under pressure and was the architect of last year's disastrous off-year election results in which the Democrats became the first party out of power to lose seats in a mid-term election in over 60 years. Mr. McAuliffe is so controversial among Democratic activists that recently he has not been signing the party's fund-raising mail. A no-name deputy now signs the direct mail appeals for funds. Mr. McAuliffe still has the confidence of Bill and Hillary Clinton, but his circle of admirers beyond that is limited. Joe Trippi, Mr. Dean's campaign manager, disputed the Drudge account saying "No one from the Dean campaign leaked anything to Drudge. This report is like a National Enquirer headline." Doesn't sound like an unequivocal denial to me. Mr. McAuliffe has gone out of his way not to criticize Mr. Dean since the Drudge item, but privately is aware of the fact that Mr. Dean is the only one of the Democratic candidates who is hostile to his remaining as chairman.

Of course, the original Drudge story has been attacked and deemed discredited by some. There are other reports that Dean and McAuliffe have made up. But Zogby is not pro-Republican, he has lots of connections and he's very smart - and even Salon noted:

Matt Drudge's internet news mill reported that Dean had threatened to replace DLC ally Terry McAuliffe as the party chairman if he wins the presidential nomination. Trippi vehemently denies the story. Yet it's clear that the Dean camp and the DLC are fighting an increasingly acrimonious civil war.

Yes, Dr. Dean might be a disaster in the general election, but so might General Clark. His weirdly embarrassing story that somebody the White House told him to say that Saddam Hussein was involved in September 11 - a story that changed continually until the "White House" became a "group in Canada" - is already having damaging effects. And he generally seems in way over his head, even if he receives lots of Clinton help.

But Wesley Clark won't dismantle the existing Clinton machine if he's nominated.

UPDATE: Former President Bill Clinton has just suggested that Hillary Clinton hasn't made up her mind yet about running for the White House. Oops, sorry Wes.

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