Third Party & Independents Archives

Advice to Gephardt: Don't Try to be Howard Dean

Gephardt geared up his anti-Bush rhetoric yesterday using hyperbole like “chest-beating unilateralism” when criticizing the President’s handling of the Iraq war. This is no doubt a response to recent polls showing Howard Dean, the current champion of anti-Bush rhetoric, on Gephardt’s heals with 10% of respondents’ support to Gephardt’s 12%. Gephardt is trying to beat Dean at his own game and I am sure some other candidates are considering the same strategy…unfortunately it’s a horrible idea.

For one thing, the war on Iraq is still relatively popular. A recent poll shows that 63% of the “public” thinks the Iraq "…situation was worth going to war over" and 57% approve of the way Bush is handling it. Furthermore, those in the electorate who would respond to such harsh criticism of Bush and Iraq are probably already firmly devoted to Dean. After all, Dean did it first. So what is there for Gephardt to gain? Nothing as I see it.

Secondly, Gephardt, along with the other Democratic hopefuls, should take advantage of the fact that Dean is doing such a good job of roasting the president. Let the “gov” bring Bush down and then you can go after the “gov”. There are plenty of points on which to attack Dean. Some suggestions: "Dean is a stubborn ideologue who will not be able to make the hard decisions and compromises necessary to make good government work!" or "Vermont is a small state comprised of rich white people! What does he know about handling the real problems Americans face, like decaying urban infrastructure and rampant poverty?" or "Dean lacks vision in foreign policy! As President he would haphazardly decide issues of war and peace without a realistic long term strategy based on experience and harsh realities." (The veracity of these attacks is irrelevant here…we’re talking politics.)

Lastly, don't bother to talk like an outsider if you are not one. I know that Dean has the tremendous advantage of being the only one in the bunch who can rightfully claim “outside the beltway” status, but as his opponent you have to concede that point and play to your weakness. Instead of trying pathetically to talk like an outsider, you should argue that in times of crises, America needs someone with Washington experience, someone who does need an orientation, someone who already understands the interplay between executive and legislative agencies.

So my advice to Gephardt, in a nut shell, is "Chill Out". There is plenty of time left for Dean to self destruct. Devote your energies to developing a strategy for both scenarios and then take it easy for a month or so. Let Dean soak up the media spotlight. Let Dean make lots of public statements and be ready to jump on the first misstep.

Of course...the risk of taking my advice is that if you wait too long or Dean makes no mistakes (or both) then you're in election trouble. But the way I see it Dick, you've got nothing to try to lose so early on.

Posted by Mike Van Winkle at July 23, 2003 11:08 AM