Howard Dean: Sarah Palin Could Beat Obama

When John McCain declared that Sarah Palin could beat President Obama, it was easy to dismiss. But when the architect of the Democratic strategy in 2008, says the same thing, you have to listen.

When John McCain declared that Sarah Palin could beat President Obama, it was easy to dismiss. What else could he say? But when Howard Dean, the architect of the Democratic strategy in 2008, says the same thing,  you have to listen.

The Hill (“Howard Dean warns Democrats Sarah Palin could beat Obama in 2012“):

Howard Dean, the former Democratic National Committee chairman who helped Democrats capture the White House in 2008, warns that Sarah Palin could defeat President Obama in 2012.

Dean says his fellow Democrats should beware of inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom that Obama would crush Palin in a general-election contest next year.

“I think she could win,” Dean told The Hill in an interview Friday. “She wouldn’t be my first choice if I were a Republican but I think she could win.”
Dean warns the sluggish economy could have more of a political impact than many Washington strategists and pundits assume.

“Any time you have a contest — particularly when unemployment is as high as it is — nobody gets a walkover,” Dean said. “Whoever the Republicans nominate, including people like Sarah Palin, whom the inside-the-Beltway crowd dismisses — my view is if you get the nomination of a major party, you can win the presidency, I don’t care what people write about you inside the Beltway,” Dean said.

Now, I don’t agree. First, the correlation between unemployment and presidential election outcomes is shaky. Second, if the national polls are to be believed, the public seems to have long concluded Palin is unqualified to be president. So, I take it that Dean is simply making a generic point: Any major party nominee has a chance to oust a sitting president if conditions are bad enough.

Dean said he doesn’t think Palin will win the GOP nomination or would have the advantage over Obama in 2012. But he warned it is dangerous for Democrats to dismiss her.

Palin said Friday that she was “still weeks away” from making a decision about a presidential campaign.

“Anybody who gets the nomination could win the presidency,” he said. “Do I think she’s going to get the nomination? No. But that process is so difficult and really tests candidates in ways that no other process can.”

Dean knows the rigors of presidential primaries first hand. In 2004, his unconventional campaign briefly put him in contention for the Democratic nod before the eventual winner, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), pulled away.

“Anybody who survives the process can win the presidency,” he added.

And he’s probably right on this score. We’ve had our share of blowouts  over the past 30 years — Reagan over Mondale in 1984, Bush over Dukakis in 1988, Clinton over Dole in 1996, and Obama over McCain in 2008. In 1984 and 1996, the incumbents were popular and in 2008 people were simply fed up with the incumbent party. But all of the losing candidates were plausible presidents. The lone exception was Dukakis in 1988, who survived the Democratic primaries in good shape and managed to implode during the general election run, becoming something of a national joke.

This already happened to Palin in 2008. Like Dan Quayle before her, she was a rising star thrust into the national spotlight too soon. She’s perhaps not as accomplished as Quayle was but compensates by substantially more charisma. Regardless, she’s got nearly universal name recognition, almost everyone has a strong opinion about her, and two-thirds of the country thinks she’s unqualified. Yes, the other third are part of the Republican nominating electorate, so she’s got a shot at beating a lackluster field that generates little enthusiasm. But what’s the path winning back a substantial number of people who’ve already written her off as a lightweight?

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2012, US Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Pete says:

    Even Andrew Sullivan said the same thing.

  2. Scott O. says:

    I think what Sullivan was saying is that it’s possible Palin could win and that mere possibility scares the crap out of him.

  3. Smooth Jazz says:

    “two-thirds of the country thinks she’s unqualified.”

    Quick, would you like to guess how many people thought Barack Obama wasn’t qualified in Feb 2006???

    Keep telling yourself that is cast in concrete, and, like Howard Dean says, by the time you and the Wash DC/NY echo chamber realize what happens, she catches fire in the heartland and moderates in fly over country. Let’s be candid with each other: You are parrotting the inside the Beltway conventional wisdom from the largely left wing Obamedia (and the Repub elite who are often tokens on the Lib dominated talking heads shows) that polls taken by Dem leaning outfits like DailyKOS/PPP, AP, NBC, ABC, et al in 2011 cannot change in 2012 because voters have fully made up their minds about her. I submit that if her upcoming movie depicts her in a way voters never saw before (or weren’t permitted to see by the Obama sychophants who dominate the media) and she the holds her own in the Repub primary, she will have a shot – no matter what the inside the Beltway talking heads think.

    I think that was largely Dr Dean’s point: ANYONE who makes it through the Repub primary would have performed in a way that convinces enough voters that they are credible – That in turn would earn perhaps another look from voters who are either neutral or leans against that candidate now. Winning (even in a Repub contest) has a way of changing minds is what he appears to be saying, even as the Wash DC/NY elites sing kumbaya at each other and parrot the same canards. If that person happens to be Gov Palin, assuming she runs, then all bets are off is his point. Essentially he is saying that polls today mean little; Your point is the convetional Beltway echo chamber paradigm: The 60% that are against her today will be against her forever, no matter if she excels during the Repub primary vetting process.

    At least OTB put this post up. This blog, and especially DougM, has shown so much animus towards the former Alaska Gov, that I never thought you guys were capable of putting up a balanced post about her. Even though you included the obligatory SHE CAN’T WIN IN 2012 BECAUSE EVERYBODY HATES HER IN 2011 Liberal & elite talking point, you guys are to be commended for at least sharing Dr Dean’s comments with your readers. I didn’t think you had in in you given your shift to the left within the past year.

  4. steve says:

    Palin’s dedicated fans will probably carry her to the nomination. In the general election, the economy will be on her side, but moderates and independents are inclined to vote against her. Quitting in the middle of a term as governor is quite rare. Her strength is making people angry. At some point she needs a positive agenda, and at some point I still think that she needs to talk with the broader press. Hiding from from difficult interviews, meaning anyone other than a committed right of center partisan, simply should not be possible for an entire election. She is the master of snark. That would not hold up as well under serious interviews and discussion.

    Steve

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Smooth Jazz: We don’t have to rely on memory for this sort of thing. Look at the June 2007 Gallup poll. Obama was leading all the Republican candidates, getting a majority in each matchup.

  6. george says:

    Not to be too cynical, but I suspect what it says is that Howard Dean thinks Palin would be the Republican candidate they would love to run against. Ideally a Palin/Trump ticket in fact. Obama was an unknown in 2007, Palin has been a public figure for several years now, and most people have already made up their minds about her one way or another.

    How seriously would the Democrats have taken it if Bob Dole had said Ted Kennedy could have won the Presidency?

  7. Herb says:

    But what’s the path winning back a substantial number of people who’ve already written her off as a lightweight?

    Bus tours! Reality shows! Theatrical features!

  8. Smooth Jazz says:

    “But what’s the path winning back a substantial number of people who’ve already written her off as a lightweight? Bus tours! Reality shows! Theatrical features!”

    That is the the conclusion from a closed off mind and is representative of the Wash DC/NY echo chamber who parry the same talking points at the same cocktail parties. The “path” to her winning is what Dr Dean is warning Dems to be mindful of and what most Liberals are incapable of seeing: The Repub primary process and the related vetting that occurs, will accrue benefits to the victor that may not be apparent today – As we discuss the impact of 9.1% unemployment and a terrible jobs report on Friday.

    In effect, Dr Dean is saying is that a Repub primary process is different from bus tours and a reality show. And if she wins the Repub primary, she will have shown enough gravitas to enough moderate Repubs to perhaps begin to turn the worm. Given her magneticsm, charisma and loyal base, if she is the Repub nominee, he is suggesting it would create an avalanche that would overwhelm the entire DC/NY ecosystem that is arrayed against her – and the Obama loving sychophants in the Liberal dominated media would be sidelined as this process unfolds.

    Look at the bright side: Obama will mostly surely beat her, so Libs should be thanking Dr Dean for giving her a shove. Obama has it in the bag if she is the Repub nominee so you should he happy if that is the case.

  9. Rock says:

    I didn’t think you had in in you given your shift to the left within the past year.

    . . . given your shift lunge to the left . . .

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    Dean is obviously a right wing ideologue.

  11. john personna says:

    But Smooth Jazz, the last Republican nomination cycle did not strengthen McCain, it shredded him as a credible, moderate, candidate. That, if you remember, included tacking Palin onto his ticket. It was an “all in” gamble on making McCain part of the hard and populist right.

    The entire cycle ensured that any candidate winning blessing from power brokers would be unappealing to the mainstream.

  12. john personna says:

    (It will be interesting to see what effect the full election cycle has on Romney. His statements on “RomneyCare good, ObamaCare socialism” have just been amusing footnotes so far, but if he goes too far out there, he destroys himself on the McCain pattern.)

  13. Pete says:

    Not sure I agree with those who think this site has “lunged” left. This site has attracted some lefties who are no more ideological than their counterparts. James has seasoned like a fine wine, Alex is occasionally distracted by the bizarre, Shuler reads Jacques Cousteau, Mataconis is a lawyer and Dodd is my hero. Steven is fair and astute, albeit in a scholarly way and Steve Verdon loves to poke the Keynesians. Great site, here.

  14. Chad S says:

    Saying she could win is giving her credibility, which is what the Dems want. They want her to run. There’s polling that suggests that Texas will be a battleground if she’s the GOP nominee. The last thing the dems should be doing is minimizing her.

  15. Herb says:

    That is the the conclusion from a closed off mind and is representative of the Wash DC/NY echo chamber who parry the same talking points at the same cocktail parties.

    Yeah, dude, keep telling yourself that….

  16. Pete says:

    Herb I know how you feel. It is the same way I felt about Obama and I haven’t changed my mind.
    http://www.theblaze.com/blog/2011/06/03/the-age-of-obama-fail/

  17. Scott O. says:

    the same talking points at the same cocktail parties.

    I would posit that “cocktail parties” is an example of a talking point.

  18. Pete says:

    Scott, I would posit that 99% of what comes out of DC are talking points because that’s the only way they can avoid serious scrutiny of what they say. Hell, how serious can politicians be when they spend time tweeting pics of themselves (I know, innocent until proven guilty)?

  19. Chad S says:

    When Palin was in DC in late April, she went to one of the biggest, most stereotypical G-Town cocktail parties. This talking point is just that.

  20. Eric Florack says:

    Howard Scream” Dean may well be politically clumsy, but he’s not a complete idiot.t.

    He sees the disaster the democrats of succeeded in making out of this economy, and sees the trend which will make the picture even worse, election time.

    Remember when they used to say (falsely) , under Reagan that the only jobs out there were hamburger flipping jobs? Turns out, under Obama, it’s true.

    . And just the other morning, even among those jobs the numbers are bleak at least.

    The left has absolutely no success is to run on. They’ve made a complete disaster of this economy, their programs are totally unpopular. All they have left is scare tactics about the republicans. Frankly, when you’re living through a nightmare, scare tactics are going to work.

    Personally, I’d like to see them try and run on their list of accomplishments. Let’s get them to stand up and run for re-election, based on the economic disaster they’ve brought upon us. Let them speak the truth: “We brought you four dollars plus per gallon of gas… we brought you massive unemployment, stagflation, and all te economic hardships that come with them. We’ve brought you a government healtcare plan that “insures’ you, but that you won’t be able to see a doctor. And so on, and so on

    Dean knows that the trends will continue, and knows at that point anybody with a pulse can beat Obama, so long as they’re not Democrat.

  21. ratufa says:

    I think she could, possibly, beat Obama if:

    1) The economy isn’t showing real signs of improvement by Fall, 2012.

    2) She somehow gets her act together, puts in enough prep work to stop sounding like a doofus during interviews and debates, and tones down her rhetoric to appeal to people who aren’t already True Believers. It’s not clear she’s capable of doing that.

    3) Obama doesn’t treat her candidacy seriously and comes across to voters as arrogant and condescending towards her.

  22. Terrye says:

    Reverse psychology…the Democrats think that if they can just get those Republicans to actually nominate Palin..then they are home free. But the truth is that if the economy keeps going down hill Ron Paul might be able to beat Obama.

    Palin’s biggest problem {other than a shamelessly biased media} is that she does not think well on her feet. She is not dumb, you don’t get where she is by being dumb..but she has a tendency to stumble when it comes to making off the cuff remarks.

  23. Wiley Stoner says:

    Watch Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace today. You will see just how wrong you are about Palin’s gravitas. Those of you who underestimate her have her confused with Tina Fey, and edited interviews on the lame stream media. She gave a speech at Madison and she gives clues to what she would do all the time, most here would just open the old rusty shut mind. As far as this site is concerned. When I first started visiting here, there was some balance. Since Steven, Doug and Alex joined, the move to the left is dramatic. Notice just how many times there are articles about Obama or what his administration is doing. They allowed guns to be sold to Mexican drug dealers to undermine our gun rights (If you cannot understand how that would work, try thinking about it) which resulted in a border patrol being shot and killed. Wonder how many Mexican have died because the BATF allowed for encouraged illegal guns sales? You will never see stories like that at OTB. Lefties don’t talk about this stuff.

  24. ponce says:

    I think Dean is trying to play 11-dimensional chess here.

    FILL IN REPUBLICAN HOPEFUL NAME HERE could defeat President Obama in 2012.

    Sarah Palin is the Republican hopeful least likely to beat Obama, though.

  25. steve says:

    “Watch Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace today.”

    Another interview from another committed, right of center partisan. Not very informative.

    “They allowed guns to be sold to Mexican drug dealers to undermine our gun rights (If you cannot understand how that would work, try thinking about it) which resulted in a border patrol being shot and killed”

    When they have tracked serial numbers (when able) on captured guns in Mexico, a lot of them came from the US well before the ATF effort. The ATF gun sales attempted to track the guns. No one is interested in stopping gun sales to Americans.

    Steve

  26. I read this and can’t help but think that Dean is just trying to keep the Democratic base engaged in case Palin does enter the race and wins the nomination. There is no other plausible explanation and that’s why I skipped over this personally.

    @James: The conventional wisdom that Dukakis “implod[ed]” in ’88 deserves rejection. He was more of a paper tiger anyway and never had solid numbers. In fact there were numerous people that predicted his demise when he was still “up” by double-digits coming out of the Democratic convention.

  27. matt says:

    Dodd is my hero

    That made me shudder a bit. Dodd is barely more sane then the right wing trolls you find on 4chan complete with smug pictures. Dodd occasionally has some good points but he lets it all go to his head resulting in severe snark and a lack of decent conversation when someone dares to question his opinion. I don’t always agree with the rest of the posters here but at least they provide solid arguments to back up their assertions without resorting to petty snark or lolpictures..

    I’m reasonably sure that Dean is just stating the obvious. Anything could happen in the future and Dean isn’t breaking any new ground by declaring there’s a possibility that Palin could win. There is also the possibility that Dean is trying to help Palin’s campaign a long a little as he sees her as the easiest to defeat in a general election. Time will tell..

  28. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    “We brought you four dollars plus per gallon of gas… we brought you massive unemployment, stagflation, and all te economic hardships that come with them […]”

    I always find it highly entertaining when a political party that prides itself on its free-market competence blames all evil under the sun unto the seemingly all-powerful political sphere while completely ignoring market forces :P.

  29. James Joyner says:

    @Talmadge East : I’m not arguing that Dukakis was likely to win at any point. Bush was Reagan’s heir and times were good. My recollection, though, is that he and Bush were both considered competent, thoughtful men who were also boring and somewhat wimpish. But Dukakis become a laughing stock after the tank ride and his debate performances, especially the infamous rape question.

  30. hey norm says:

    Bottom line…If this Country elected Bush 43 to a second term this country will elect anyone.