I recently wrote a post that I never actually posted which supported my theory that Howard Dean really never had very much support in 2004. Sure, the support he had was quite firm, but it was inherently limited to the small percentage of people who had already joined his movement. I didn't post it because it was too number-oriented, and I've found that you people don't seem to like my number-crunching posts (I, being an accountant, happen to love number crunching, but I understand why it's not so fun to read).
Basically, Dean had about a steady 14% of the voting-Dems. That was it: 14%. During the build up to the primaries in December, that number doubled, and stayed high going into Iowa. But after his dismal third-place finish in Iowa pulled the rug out from under him, he went back down to his original 14%. In contrast, the other candidates were fairly loose with the numbers, with Kerry never looking very good until his big win in Iowa. After that, everyone seemed to file in behind him, particularly the people who had temporarily joined the Dean bandwagon. Sure, none of this is conclusive, but if I posted the numbers I crunched, you'd see I'm not completely speculating.
And the reason was simple: Dean grabbed a certain segment of the population that he had tailored his platform on. But the other candidates were all fighting for the same crowd as each other, and that crowd didn't give a damn if it was Kerry, Edwards, Clark, or Lieberman who got the spot; just as long as it was one of those guys (I personally would have supported any of those except Joe, though I preferred Clark). And then there were the bandwagon people who joined Dean when he looked like he was the one, but would have supported any Democrat they saw as the front-runner. That's where a big chunk of Kerry and Edwards support came from after Iowa, as all the other candidates stayed firm in the polls except for Kerry, Edwards, and Dean (as well as Gephardt, who dropped out after Iowa).
But the main point is that Dean never was going to get those Kerry, Edwards, Clark, Lieberman people. He just wasn't. So while he looked strong throughout the pre-primary season, that strength was just based upon people who really weren't like the rest of the Democrats. Dean was the one guy who wasn't interchangeable with the others. While he wasn't going to get less than his 13%, he wasn't going to get much more than that either. And that's the reason he lost. My numbers show that of the first nine primaries, Dean averaged 12.7% of the vote, with his best showing in New Hampshire and his worst in Oklahoma. And that backs up much of what I'm saying.
It wasn't the "Dean Scream" or the Washington Establishment opposing him, because most people really aren't influenced by the Washington Establishment. It was just that he had a message tailored for a specific audience, and that message just didn't translate with the rest of the Democrats. Had Edwards, Clark, and Lieberman not been splitting Kerry's demographic, he would have been trouncing Dean in the polls, not lagging with the rest.
Losing Red State
But like I said, I decided to not post that post. But I started thinking about it again today when Carpetbagger made the mistake of writing a post about Ron Paul. As usual, the Paul People got wind of it and descended upon Carpetbagger with their usual tripe about how Ron Paul is the savior of the universe and the only true American in politics.
Sure, Carpetbagger's post was merely a note about how Ron Paul raised a bunch of money in a short period of time, but no matter. They descended all the same, imagining that they can convince liberals to support Paul because Paul wants us to be able to use gold to buy stuff at stores and some idiocy about how Social Security doesn't exist and how it's only our creditors who are paying the Social Security checks (despite the fact that Social Security is still quite profitable and is one of the government's creditors).
And so I wrote a comment there begging Carpetbagger to stop posting about Ron Paul because it makes all the loons come out of the woodwork and rant about Ron Paul. It's like these people are just desperate to find some forum to discuss him in. And I thought that was crazy, because if anyone was going to get into Paul's old school conservative platform, it certainly wouldn't be the liberals at Carpetbagger. So they were all wasting their time.
And then one of them dropped me the final clue: the conservative blog Red State already hates the Paul People. I couldn't believe it. This guy was actually suggesting that I go to Red State because of their anti-Paul policy. Holy shit! If they lost Red State, they're screwed. Because where does Paul go from there? He's an old school conservative further to the right than the Bushies (using the traditional Left-Right Index, of course, and not the revised Bush Loyalty Index).
I mean, the only thing about Paul that could appeal to moderates and liberals is Paul's anti-war policy, and we've got Democrats who do that. And once any moderate or liberal gets a load of Paul's other policies, they jump ship. So if they can't convert the freaks at Red State, what's the point? They could raise thirty million dollars in a week, and it still won't help them. They've already got all the supporters they're going to get and have got nowhere else to go.
Finding the Herd
And I started thinking about this Paul phenomenon and realized it was just like the Dean phenomenon, except worse for Paul. As I wrote at Carpetbagger's, the issue is that you have a certain number of disenfranchised people on the fringes who are lost in a national sea of moderation and compromise. They're all by themselves and need to feel like they're part of something bigger. It's part of our herd-like instincts, to have other people validate our beliefs and let us know that we're not crazy. It's sort of like a bat's sonar; it makes people feel better when they say something to hear the echo come back to them.
And so when they find some politician who will speak to them, they immediately are attracted like moths to a light, where they find each other. Finally, they've found a group of like-minded individuals. These are people who don't even get along well with people of their own ideology, and so they think it's something special when they can find so many people who think just like them. And the Internet is a big help in that, as now it's easier for thirty thousand people to get together and form a group. But while that's a lot of people, that's really not very many on a national scale.
In the old days, a local politician with a thirty thousand man army of supporters would be quite powerful, but if most of those people couldn't vote in his district, and if this was the most he could get out of the entire nation, it won't help much. Sure, the politician will look good, particularly in national polls, but all those people can't support him in individual state primaries. Nor is it particularly impressive in an age where a presidential nominee can get over fifty million votes and still lose.
While the Internet has been a big help in combining little guys into big forces, those forces can be deceptive. Atrios getting thirty thousand people to send letters might help sway a politician on a particular issue. But thirty thousand votes in a presidential election won't even amount to a small joke. Republicans can toss out more than thirty thousand votes before breakfast. Sure, it's better than being lost in the wilderness, but it still won't put your guy in the Whitehouse.
Nowhere but Down
And as I said, the other issue is where you go with your army. If you've got a solid 14% of the population as Dean did in 2004 and you're moving from a moderate position and can gather huge chunks of the other nominee's votes, you're sitting pretty. But if you got 14% from a fringe that is pretty much limited at 14%, you've got nowhere to go. Instead, you could get snookered by a moderate like John Kerry, who barely made it into double-digits and whose support was never as steady as Dean's. Because again, Kerry was sharing the majority of the Democrats with the other moderates; while Dean was usually grabbing a steady share all to his own.
And the reason Dean wasn't sharing those votes is the same reason he couldn't win: Because nobody really wanted his voters. He got all that support because the other candidates were neglecting that part of the population. But they were being neglected because they were fringe people who rejected moderation and compromise. They latched to Dean because he was the one guy telling them what they wanted to hear; accusing the others of being "Bush-lite". And if that was a smart position to take, you can bet that other candidates would have latched onto it and would have stolen much of Dean's support.
So in essence, Dean was only as popular as he was because he had adopted a position which wasn't very popular. As I suggested at Carpetbagger's, it's like being the only CB radio repairman in town. Sure, every CB owner will flock to you when they need repairs, but there just aren't that many of them. Getting 100% of six million people isn't as good as getting 40% of fifty million people. And that's what we're talking about.
Cheney Buttinski Wins
But for Paul, it's even worse. First off, we're already in November and he's still not polling as well as Dean was. By the end of October 2004, Newsweek had Dean at 13%, where he had been for months. They've got Paul at 3%. And for context, Dean was tied in first with Clark, and was only losing to the "Don't Know/None/Other" category, which stayed steady at 27%. Paul, on the other hand, isn't even included in the General Election polls I saw.
But even worse, the CB radio analogy is quite appropriate. Because the thing is, Ron Paul is an anachronism. He's not a fringe candidate because he's too radical. He's in the fringe because his entire party went off the deep-end and left him there. Sure, his ideas are radical and would be rejected by large majorities, if they were to know what he wanted to do. But the thing is, he's really no different than what most Republican politicians were saying just a decade ago. He didn't change, the party did. But he's just as loony as he ever was.
And just like with Dean, the only reason he's being noticed is because he's taking up a huge chunk of ideological real estate that's been abandoned. The only reason why he stands out is because no other major Republican is taking that stand, yet there are still quite a few diehard conservatives who are still there. Or who have come back from the deep-end, after they saw how much of a disaster it is. But while Dean was the fringe candidate who was too ahead of his time, Paul just stands out like a sore thumb and is a nasty reminder about how conservatives used to be, before the Bush-Cheney machine came along and ruined everything.
And while that should be a good thing, these are people who don't like to admit to mistakes and are still living in a fantasyworld. They don't want to hear about how they all went off the rails. They want Giuliani to torture the shit out of people (literally) and they want the guy from Law & Order to come riding in on a horse and save the day. They don't want small government and isolationism. They want a government that kicks butt, takes names, and then kicks some more butt.
And Ron Paul won't give that to them. Because that's one of the odd things about the Bush-Cheney movement: They're actually more moderate than the conservatives of the 90's. I guess it's that Compassionate Conservative thing. They believe in powerful government. They went global. They now think it's good to deny individual rights in order to benefit society, just like liberals; the only difference being that they think they own society and that society should work for them. The problem isn't that they're too conservative. The problem is that they're batshit crazy and they really don't give a damn.
And as it turns out, while conservatives liked the "I've got mine, leave me alone" rhetoric, they really liked conformity and butting into everyone else's business. Both those strands were within the crazy conservative ideology, but with Cheney at the helm, the Buttinski's won. They're now the Party of Big Brother and they like it.
The Lonely Paul People
And so all those poor Paul supporters just can't figure out what's going on. Finally, they've found a candidate who represents what they believe. And sure, while they themselves may have lapsed after 9/11, they're now back and have a candidate to support; the kind of candidate they used to have in the good old days. Yet he can't even bust into double-digits among weak competition. Everyone they know whose opinion they trust is supporting Ron Paul and this looks like the real deal. But alas, it won't be.
Again, the only reason why they all support Paul is because his position is so unpopular. Supply & Demand wins again. The bigger demand something has, the more suppliers will show up to fill that demand. But if demand is low enough, you'll be lucky to get even one supplier. And that's what the Paul People have: Their one CB radio repair guy who's getting all the business in town and still can't catch a break. And the more they rally behind him and insist that he's unlike all the other candidates, the more everyone else will reject him.
And that apparently includes the Red State people, who were really his only hope. The Paul People can try to pretend he's the next Dean and try to woo some anti-war support from the left, but all that does is remind us how crazy they really are. Paul may have a tight group of rabid supporters, but it won't do him any good.