You know things are getting dicey for Democrats when the New York Times, taking a break from concocting stories about John McCain to fret about the state of the Democratic primary race, tells us:
“Interviews with dozens of undecided superdelegates — the elected officials and party leaders who could hold the balance of power for the nomination — found them uncertain about who, if anyone, would step in to fill a leadership vacuum and help guide the contest to a conclusion that would not weaken the Democratic ticket in the general election.”
Well, in situations like this the party chairman usually would be the person to step in and provide direction, but the Democrats have Howard Dean. Hence, the Times has good reason to worry about a “leadership vacuum.”
Dean is proving to be as shaky a party chairman as he was a presidential candidate. He has shown no inclination or ability to resolve the two major issues which bedevil Democrats and threaten to turn what was supposed to be a banner year into disastrous one.
FLORIDA AND MICHIGAN, YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN
The Democrats’ most immediate problem has been the dispute over the Michigan and Florida delegates. The problem is one of the Democrats,’ and Dean’s, own making. After setting the primary schedule to allow only select states to hold votes before Super Tuesday on February 5, Dean threatened the remaining states with complete disenfranchisement if they jumped the queue. Rather than dole out a lesser penalty (as the Republicans did in merely fining its calendar violators half of their delegates), he stripped all the delegates from Michigan and Florida.
This set the stage for a full blown confrontation. Will the DNC crown a winner without “making every vote count” or stick to its guns and enforce its scheduling rules?
Everyone (other than Dean) could see this was a train wreck coming. While Democrats (including both affected states and the two candidates’ surrogates) pleaded for a resolution, Dean tossed the ball back to the two affected state parties and disclaimed any interest in proposing a workable solution.
Dean blithely declared: “All they have to do is come before us with rules that fit into what they agreed to a year and a half ago, and then they’ll be seated.” And would Dean help pay for the re-votes? Not a chance, since under his leadership the DNC is practically broke. As he put it, “We can’t afford to do that. That’s not our problem. We need our money to win the presidential race.”
Michigan Democrats seemed close to a deal for a re-vote only to see the plan founder, in large part due to Obama camp’s objections that independents and Republicans would be excluded from the re-vote. As for Florida, the state party has thrown up its hands and declared a re-vote impossible. As a result, one and possibly two large states may be entirely excluded from the Democrats’ nominating process.
Worse yet, Hillary Clinton will now have a procedural fight to take to the Convention and challenge the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s potential nomination. Her campaign spokesman began to lay the groundwork for just such an attack as soon as they heard word of the Florida revote’s demise, declaring: “We hope the Obama campaign shares our belief that Florida’s voters must be counted and cannot be disenfranchised.” The Clinton-inspired street demonstrations at the Convention in Denver this summer are sure to follow.
Where is Dean? For now, he’s nowhere to be seen while his party descends into partisan warfare.
The Michigan/Florida delegate problem may pale in comparison to the knottier one: neither candidate will have the required 2025 delegates needed to claim the nomination after the primary voting ends in June. Democrats are in panic mode because they may have a bloody, acrimonious convention and worse — no Democratic nominee decided until late August.
Some Democrats plead for Al Gore to reappear and settle the matter. (Just how he would do that, given his longstanding poor relations with Hillary isn’t obvious). Nancy Pelosi says the superdelegates should simply cast votes for whoever is ahead. She declared: “If the votes of the superdelegates overturn what’s happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic party.”
However, Dean disagrees. Back in February he issued a statement explaining that superdelegates should act as the super-deciders: “Their role is to exercise their best judgment in the interests of the nation and of the Democratic Party. I am confident that they will carry out that duty responsibly and in accordance with the highest values of our democracy and our Party.” That was music to the ears of the Clinton camp which will need those superdelegates to throw Obama overboard and hand her the nomination.
A few weeks later Dean declared on a morning news show: “I think we may well have a clear-cut winner. The discussions I’m having with the party is not about fixing the contest, the discussion is how to keep information flowing so that people don’t think the process is unfair, how we unify the party.” But that simply is not going to happen, barring a complete collapse of one of the two contenders.
In short, Dean appears out of touch or out of ideas about how to save his party from cannibalism (or both). Last Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Ruth Marcus, a Washington Post columnist, bemoaned that there was no Bob Strauss, the legendary DNC chairman, to bring consensus and order to the chaos which looms ahead. That’s for certain.
Dean may get lucky. One of the candidates may break away and crush the other in the remaining weeks. One of them may decide it is not worth destroying the party to fight to the bitter end. But if not, and the party falls into a virtual civil war, Democrats will be looking for someone to blame. Now that’s a role Howard Dean could fill quite nicely.