By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
III. Clark and Edwards: When Showing Up Isn’t Enough
If nothing else, Wesley Clark’s decision to start out in New Hampshire had precedent on its side. The only other general to win the White House in the past hundred years, Dwight Eisenhower, had also started in New Hampshire, in the Republican primary of 1952, in which he bested Robert Taft by a healthy 50 percent to 41 percent margin.
There was one difference, though. Eisenhower, who was NATO commander at the time, never set foot in New Hampshire. He remained on duty in Europe, an undeclared candidate, while his backers put his name on the ballot — and, with their help, that name worked magic.
In the aftermath of the past week, Wesley Clark may wish he’d never set foot in New Hampshire, either. His campaign was a cavalcade of klutziness — a flat debate performance, a petty and snappish response (putting down Kerry as a mere lieutenant) unretracted, an obvious question (on Michael Moore’s calling Bush a deserter) to which no answer had been prepared. At one town meeting last week, Clark was introduced by two West Point classmates. The first told how Clark had not only graduated first in his class but also helped some slower pupils on the rugby team — himself and his fellow introducer — get through their exams. The second speaker came on and said the very same thing. But Clark wasn’t there yet, so the second speaker said it again. And again. And again. No one from the campaign came up to say that Clark had yet to arrive, so the erstwhile rugby player regaled the crowd with the same three sentences for a full 10 minutes until Clark finally showed up.
When he showed, the general was actually quite good. He has mastered his stump speech, not just the words but the manner, the inflections. Whether he’s mastered any more political arts than that is open to question: Though the crowd expected to be able to ask questions, Clark left abruptly when he concluded his talk.
In a sense, Clark lost this race in Iowa, when Howard Dean finished third behind Kerry. Clark was to have been the anti-Dean, the guy who opposed the war but who had unchallengeable national-security credentials. It’s not at all clear that Clark would have entered the race at all had John Kerry not tanked in the middle of 2003. When Kerry returned from the dead in Iowa, the very raison d’être of Clark’s campaign suffered a likely fatal blow. Indeed, precisely because he wasn’t a lifer, Lieutenant Kerry’s war was much more a grunt’s war than Clark’s, and Kerry and his handlers have far more experience than Clark and his in reassembling his old buddies, and the legions of vets whom Kerry mobilized against the war once they were stateside. Since his first, unsuccessful race for Congress in the ’70s, Kerry has run with vets at his side. There were more of them than ever this time out, and it was a tableau that Clark never came close to matching.
John Edwards, meanwhile, got lost in the shuffle. The trial lawyer turned North Carolina senator was certainly the most talented campaigner of the lot; he delivered his populist assault on the Bush administration with spellbinding force. I saw him during one such performance (the text never changed) from the balcony of the Palace Theater in downtown Manchester, from which vantage point the fusion of thought and gesture seemed so perfect that the speech almost seemed choreographed. As their fellow Iowans had, New Hampshirites warmed to Edwards; 73 percent told exit pollsters they had a favorable impression of him, with just 22 percent unfavorable — a rating higher even than Kerry’s.
But Edwards still suffers from a gravitas gap that is partly a function of his youthful appearance. More seriously, while no one has so thoroughly demonstrated the deep appeal of a populist politics in the age of Bush, no one has so demonstrated its limits. Edwards simply does not discuss the war in his talk, and with Democrats concerned about the ability of their nominee to neutralize Bush on security issues, Edwards simply didn’t make the cut.
Now, Edwards goes south, where he’ll have to find some way to augment his appeal if he’s to beat back the challenges of Kerry, Clark and Al Sharpton, who’s made a major play for South Carolina’s African-American vote. Dean may retain an advantage in Arizona and New Mexico among next week’s states, but there’s no guarantee just now that he can win anyplace against the Kerry onslaught. Kerry looks likely to pick up a majority of the seven states up for grabs next week — and maybe, more than a majority.
IV. First Principles
For all that they’ve been fighting one another over the past year, there are some striking similarities in the candidates’ messages — striking because they take the Democrats onto terrain where they don’t normally wander. Consider, for instance, the C word. John Kerry decries the crony capitalism of the Bush years, while Howard Dean compares the current form of capitalism to “a hockey game without a referee.”