Nearer, My Dean, to Thee
Some Deaniacs jump ship, while others spin conspiracy theories. Still others see victory close at hand.
11:00 PM, Feb 4, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
"Why aren't there any more Dean ads playing here in the Albuquerque area?" asked "Page in Albuquerque." "I've contributed almost $2,000.00. I did so happily . . . but maybe you could put some of these $$$ from us supporters toward great, professional ads, and also to actually keep the ads GOING?"
"If Dean isn't the #1 decisive winner in at least one state on Feb. 3, then I'm jumping ship and going with Edwards," declared "Roscoe." "I've donated some hundreds of dollars to [Dean for America]. Given where we were three weeks ago, and now that it counts, it is a shame that campaign personnel is failing to implement an effective strategy to win."
"Cordelia Lear" named names, announcing, "I think that Trippi has become a problem." Fifteen hours later, Trippi posted his letter of resignation.
OF COURSE Cordelia didn't bring about Trippi's end--rumors of his demise had been circulating in rival camps for days. But in a very real way, the denizens of the Dean Blog for America aren't mere supporters--they're shareholders. Without the stream of cash they provide via his blog, Dean would be both beaten and broke. So he ignores the online chatter at his own peril.
It is already an established cliché that Dean's candidacy resembles a dot-com company of the 1990s. It's a cliché because it's true. The campaign began as a high concept--overt anger at the president and opposition to the war--and quickly found itself drowning in riches from its IPO to the Democratic base. It then used a wave of fawning media coverage to establish the illusion of inevitability.
The Dean campaign had organization, money, and a message. It had everything except a plausible theory of how it could win votes from a wide cross-section of Democratic voters. The business strategy the campaign did have was essentially, "Build it and they will come."
A striking feature of the Dean campaign was its burn-rate. In 2003, Dean raised $41 million. By January 30, 2004, the New York Times was reporting that the campaign had only about $5 million on hand; other reports said the number was closer to $3 million. "Even the organization is still trying to figure out where the money went," allows one high-level staffer, explaining the campaign's cash-flow problem. "They tossed a lot of money into Iowa--a lot of money." The Associated Press reported that $8.5 million was spent on staff and consultant salaries in 2003.
In an attempt at reorganization, Dean pulled ads from primary states and, in a widely reported move, asked his staff to defer their salaries for two weeks. What was not widely reported was that at the end of the two week deferment, many staffers were laid off. "What I saw going into the meeting," says one former campaign worker, "was, okay, there's going to be a two-week pay furlough. . . . But essentially it was, 'You guys did a great job and we'd like to offer you some paid work going forward, but we can't do that. If you want to volunteer, go ahead and drive somewhere. If you feel like it.' It pretty much was a layoff."
Which is how it ends now for Howard Dean. Campaigning on anger and confrontation with the establishment, he promises to work cordially with other world leaders. Campaigning on fiscal responsibility, he loses track of his own campaign's finances and reckless spending. Campaigning on job growth, he winds up laying off devoted workers under the cover of a "salary deferment."
Since Dean's implosion began on January 19, the comments on his blog have grown steadily less critical of the man and his campaign. One by one, the supporters who understand reality are peeling away from the Deaniac camp. After Washington and Michigan this weekend, the only people left will be the ones who believe that now, finally, Howard Dean has the nomination in the bag.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.