NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Howard Dean: Modern Day McGovern

June 25, 2003

George W. Bush won't be beaten by any Democrat now in the field, nor by anyone standing in the wings, says Bruce Bartlett. That is the one thing fueling the campaign of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, probably the most left-wing candidate to seriously compete for the Democratic nomination since George McGovern in 1972.

Rank-and-file Democrats figure that since they can't win anyway, the more electable candidates like Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) have no advantage owing to that fact. If Democrats are going down in flames anyway, the base figures that they might as well do so behind someone who speaks to their soul, rather than some pale imitation, explains Bartlett.

Republicans did the same thing in 1964 when they nominated Barry Goldwater on the slogan, "a choice, not an echo."

  • They saw that Lyndon Johnson was unbeatable that year and preferred to lose with someone who would represent principled conservatism.
  • However, although Goldwater lost, as expected, his long-term impact on the Republican Party was profound -- never again would the party nominate a candidate for president who ran as a moderate.

Thus there is a direct line from Goldwater's loss to the victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980, says Bartlett.

Therefore, Democrats should be wary of supporting Dean as a protest against the blandness of Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards et al. They could end up putting the Democratic Party on a course from which it will be difficult to change, one that will make it extremely difficult for an electable candidate to get the nomination in the future.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Howard Dean: Modern Day McGovern," National Center for Policy Analysis, June 24, 2003.


Browse more articles on Government Issues