The Man to Beat Himself?

So far this week, we’ve looked at why Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman can’t get their presidential campaigns off the ground. Let’s do something different, and see how high-flyer Howard Dean could crash and burn.


In almost every nominating race, one candidate surges strong early, gets all the adoring media, poses a surprising challenge to the front-runner, and then self-destructs. In 1980, we had Ted Kennedy. What killed Ted? Two things: Chappaquiddick and failure to ask an important question. The question was, “Why do you want to be President?” Kennedy’s answer was an incoherent jumble.

Oops. But that was a small oops, compared to our other flame-outs.

That brings us to Gary Hart. Hart didn’t quite crash in the 1984 race. It’s just that, like Bob Dole in 1996, ’84 was Walter Mondale’s year. He was old, he’d been around longer than anyone else, and, uh, he was old and had been around longer than anyone else. So he got the nod. But Hart did well enough that 1988 should have been his year.


Then he got caught with a bikini girl on his lap in a yacht called Monkey Business, and we got stuck with Mike Dukakis. I’d say that’s the sort of spectacular idiocy you only ever see on TV, except that TV is where you saw it.

Four years later and another wide-open race for the chance to run against popular war President George H. W. Bush. Mario Cuomo and Gephardt both bowed out when Bush’s poll numbers were at record highs. Almost no one of any stature was willing to run. And so Bill Clinton looked likely to take it all


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