You Won't Have Dean to Kick Around...Unfortunately
Now that Howard Dean's campaign has taken a serious hit post-Iowa, I think it's a good time to assess the Republicans' strategy (or lack thereof) in the preceding months.* We've constantly been hearing about how the White House and influential Republicans were savoring a Dean nomination as the easiest route to re-election. But then how do you explain the constant Republican/Conintern attacks on Dean leading up to Iowa? The relentless barrage pushed up Dean's negatives and convinced many Democratic voters that maybe Dean really was unelectable. Is this what the Republicans had in mind? Recall that in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary in California, the Gray Davis camp launched a series of attack ads against Richard Riordan, which, to a great extent, paved the way for Bill Simon's nomination. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer infamously decried this as "puke politics," but I think that the Davis strategy was in fact brilliant, and is par for the course in this Atwater/Rove world. Thus, if the Republicans were really clamoring for Dean in November, wouldn't it have been wiser to focus their attacks on Kerry, Edwards, and Clark, so that Dean would likely remain the frontrunner?
The pre-Iowa Republican strategy suggests one of two things, I think. The first possibility is that the Repubs' boasting about looking forward to a Dean nomination was all bluster, when in fact they were actually fearful of Dean. Alternatively, and more realistically, I think Republican strategists were split. I'm sure some wanted to emulate the Davis campaign's strategy, as mentioned above, while others, such as the Club For Growth, simply couldn't resist the opportunity to repeatedly bash the homo-lovin', sushi-eatin' librul Dean. Whatever the case may be, Republicans may very well regret their (largely successful) full-frontal assault on Dean in the weeks leading up to Iowa. Oh well.
*I still think Dean has a good chance at winning New Hampshire. However, Iowa showed that his vaunted organization and fundraising didn't mean jack when it came to persuading Dem primary voters. Thus, even if Dean wins New Hampshire, I have serious doubts as to whether he could carry that momentum into MO, OK, AZ, and SC on February 3rd.