George Will runs through the list of Democratic contenders and, like the rest of us, thinks Dean appears to be a shoe-in at this point. And then he throws this curve:

Many Democrats, who believe that running against an abrasive tax-raising, antiwar New England liberal is George W. Bush’s dream, consider Dean’s nomination their worst nightmare. They have no knack for nightmares. It is possible that the worst Democratic disaster would result from not nominating Dean.

Democrats know that if Ralph Nader had not siphoned votes away from Gore–in Florida, especially, but in some other states, too–they would hold the White House today. They are heartened by the fact that there is as yet no sign of a significant independent candidacy that would splinter liberal voting. That could change if Dean does not win the nomination.

The arc of his candidacy, which already was impressive, has been up sharply in recent days. Because of his success in raising record amounts of money–largely thanks to his prescient use of the Internet–he opted out of public funding of his campaign, and has suffered no noticeable political cost. Two large, politically active unions have endorsed him. He has a large lead in money raised and in the demonstrated ability to keep raising it. He and his supporters will be bitter if he is beaten.

His true believers, with the steadfastness that comes from monomania, are energized by anger about the war. Gephardt, the likely nominee if Dean isn’t, voted for the war. If Gephardt wins, will disappointed Deanites bravely smile and sweetly say, “Jolly good. Beaten fair and square. Let’s all rally ’round Dick. Never mind that he is one of the Washingtonians that our hero calls ‘cockroaches'”?

Not likely. Many will go looking for an alternative candidate. Someone as much fun as the feisty Dean. Someone fueled by contempt for Democrats he considers morally squishy. Someone with national name recognition, a seasoned campaign staff, well-honed campaigning skills, a large cadre of true believers and an up-and-running money machine.

So, who might be the formidable independent candidate to win the votes of liberals disaffected from a Democratic Party that does not nominate Dean? Dean.

This strikes me as rather implausible. The only scenario I can think of that leads to a Dean independent run is if the nomination is stolen from him–i.e., a Hillary Clinton nomination via the incredibly unlikely brokered convention discussed in a previous post.

Dean will have enough trouble beating President Bush even in a two way race. It would simply be impossible if there’s a Democratic nominee also running against him; the best he could hope for would be to finish second by fracturing the party.

The last sore loser independent was John Anderson in 1980. Has he been heard from since?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Scott Harris says:

    I don’t think George Will’s point is that Dean would have a good chance of beating Bush as an independent. Rather, his point is that Democrats who fear a Dean disaster if Dean is nominated by the Democratic party have failed to consider the disaster that might occur within their party if the chooses to alienate their die-hard core constituency by orchestrating events to deny Dean the nomination.

  2. James Joyner says:


    Right. I should have been clearer. Dean isn’t a novelty candidate–he really wants to win. Aside from some really strange move by the party elite to deny him a nomination he has won in the primaries, I can’t imagine what would motivate him to mount a losing independent candidacy.