to John Ellis' TechCentralStation essay
on Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean. Ellis lists many effects of this action:
And this week [Gore] all but announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination by endorsing Gov. Dean for president.
Today's endorsement is a transformational event in two respects; (1) it will make Gov. Dean the prohibitive favorite to win the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination and, (2) it will make you think differently about Al Gore.
It's a very shrewd move. Start with the least likely outcome. If Governor Dean defeats President Bush in 2004, Al Gore becomes Secretary of State or a Supreme Court Justice or whatever he wants, the day after the election is over. That's how much Dean will owe him.
If Dean loses, Gore will be the rightful heir to the Dean apparatus; the single most impressive fund-raising and organizing operation in Democratic Party politics. He'll inherit the only network that is capable of competing with and defeating the Clinton network, which it has by proxy in the Dean v. Clark competition. If politics is finally a matter of real estate, as Norman Mailer argued in his classic study of the 1968 conventions, then title to the Dean property is without question the single most valuable asset of the 2004 experience. It will be Gore's and Gore's alone on "the day after Dean goes down."
Yes, the endorsement could be seen as a signal that Gore will reenter presidential politics five years hence. But I disagree with Ellis as to the importance of the act. Gore is not going to receive a huge boost in the 2008 campaign for these reasons:
- Gore's endorsement is not risky.
Gore is endorsing the the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination. If Gore had made his endorsement in the summer, when Dean was viewed as a second-tier candidate who had somehow managed to raise a lot of money, that would have been a risky action. Now that Dean has opened up a huge lead in the polls, Gore's endorsement looks more like the inevitable rallying around the winner.
- Endorsements don't mean much.
Every candidate has a list of endorsements as long as your arm. (Searching for "endorsement" on the Dean For America site produced 76 results.) Did Clinton have a lot of endorsements when he began his 1992 primary campaign? It's difficult to see why Dean would reward Gore with a high cabinet position or Supreme Court seat if elected, considering that Dean's real problem at this point is winning the election, not winning the nomination. Gore's endorsement does not help Dean gain ground on George W. Bush.
- Campaign volunteers are not fungible.
Dean's campaign apparatus is not some professional organization that can be spun off and merged at random, like a division of a corporation. There are thousands of people who are excited to be Dean's volunteers because they are passionate about Dean, and feel as though they are using the internet for politics in a revolutionary way. Those people cannot be frozen on Election Day, 2004, and thawed out in early 2007 by Al Gore for his own use.
Michael Lewis wrote a book called Trail Fever (now reissued as Losers), in which he details the Republican primaries and general election of 1996. One consistent theme was Bob Dole's use of hired campaign consultants -- "rented strangers" in the words of George Will. The rented strangers, loyal only to themselves, drained Dole's campaign of all passion and spontaneity.
If Gore attempts to "inherit" Dean's campaign, the loyalists will leave and Gore will be left with the most self-seeking of the bunch.